Beirut Undergoing a Glitzy Renaissance

A building boom is transforming the core of a fabled city that endured decades of war and turmoil.  It’s Beirut, where battered  Ottoman-era building are being restored and high-rise apartment towers with mirrored facades are rising along the Mediterranean waterfront.

Beirut’s unprecedented building boom is transforming Lebanon into an investment haven at a time when regions such as the oil-rich Persian Gulf are bleeding cash.  “The market is continuing to really stun a lot of people and to attract some new players,” according to Raja Makarem, the founder of Ramco, a real estate company.  Makarem noted that Lebanon has seen property values rise 30 percent in each of the past four years.  Beirut’s boom might be partially related to Dubai’s financial meltdown, forcing all-cash buyers in search of a better real estate market.

Luxury high rises with apartments selling from $5,000 to $8,000 per square meter are being constructed in downtown Beirut, while buildings dating back to 19th-century Ottoman rule are being carefully restored.  One project is the Beirut Souks, a 1,076,400 SF, $300 million high-end outdoor shopping mall constructed by Soldiere, Lebanon’s largest development and construction firm.  Beirut’s number and value of property sales have soared over the last year, according to statistics from the Bank Audi.  In December, the value of real estate sales was $1.25 billion, an increase of 40.8 percent over the same month of 2008.

“The global crisis that has strongly impacted the real estate market in the Gulf has somehow pushed investors to turn toward Lebanon,” said Tina Chamoun, marketing manager for Plus Properties, the Dubai-based marketing firm that is promoting two high-profile projects in Beirut.  The $700 million developments – Plus Towers and Venus Towers – encompass five luxury residential towers with penthouse views of downtown Beirut and the city’s waterfront.  The 50-story Sama Tower, which is scheduled for completion in 2014, will be Lebanon’s tallest office building.