A journalist takes a picture with her smartphone of a computer-generated image during a presentation of the Belgrade Waterfront project in Belgrade. (AFP/Getty Images)
Work has officially begun on the Belgrade Waterfront, a $4 billion joint venture between an Abu Dhabi real estate investment company in Abu Dhabi and the Serbian government.
In comments published by AMEinfo, Sinisa Mali, mayor of Belgrade, said phase one, which involves demolishing and clearing up existing properties on the city’s riverbank, has started.
In June, Serbia unveiled plans to redevelop the Belgrade waterfront, aiming to make the capital a tourism and business hub.
The Belgrade Waterfront project promises office and luxury apartment blocks, eight hotels, a shopping mall and a tower resembling Dubai's landmark Burj Khalifa, albeit a quarter of the size at 200 metres, on the right bank of the Sava River.
The project is to be co-financed and led by Dubai-based construction company Eagle Hills, with the company reportedly agreeing to put up the €3bn ($4.08bn) cost of the scheme.
“Serbia will be responsible for the entire cleanup effort of 1.8 million square metres of land, which includes Belgrade’s central train station, as well as the infrastructure connecting the area with the rest of the city. The investor (Eagle Hills) will finance everything inside of the borders of the Belgrade Waterfront,” Mali was quoted as saying.
It is the signature project of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic's coalition government, which has pledged to create jobs and growth and turn Belgrade into a business hub for the Western Balkans.
The proposed area for development, Savamala, houses grand, century-old buildings that have become derelict, though the area has started to re-emerge as a cultural hub. Unlike some parts of Belgrade, the area escaped damage by NATO bombing during the Kosovo conflict in 1999 but the right bank of the Sava is blighted by a seedy central railway station and bus terminus.
In March, while Vucic was deputy premier, Serbia secured a $1bn, 10-year loan from the United Arab Emirates to prop up its budget. Last year, Abu Dhabi's state-owned Etihad Airways bought a minority stake and gained managerial rights in troubled Serbian flag carrier JAT Airways.