TheStadiumBusiness Q&A – Qiddiya

Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC) last month unveiled the masterplan for its sports and entertainment resort in Saudi Arabia, with the ‘Giga Project’ to feature a 20,000-seat cliff-top stadium, an 18,000-seat multi-purpose indoor arena, and other facilities it states will make it the “motorsports capital of the world”.

Located around 45km from the capital Riyadh, Qiddiya aims to deliver on many of the central tenets embodied in Vision 2030, an initiative that seeks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s interests away from the oil sector.

The masterplan for the project, created in conjunction with Danish architectural company Bjarke Ingels Group, details a 334 square kilometre site, envisioning development covering only 30% of the land leaving the remainder dedicated for natural conservation. The site is organised around five primary development nodes, each with a unique purpose.

The ‘City Centre’ will be home to a collection of sports venues including the stadium and arena, an aquatic centre and a sports hub capable of hosting a cross-section of individual sports activities and events.

The ‘Speed Park’ will bring together events and experiences from the world of motorsport in a venue that places equal emphasis on spectator and driver. The Speed Park includes tracks, showrooms, retail, a driver’s club and a luxury hotel within its gates.

The ‘Resort Core’, ‘Eco Core’ and ‘Motion Core’ complete these offerings. With 45-plus projects and 300-plus activities planned, Qiddiya seeks to repatriate part of the $23bn (£18.3bn/€20.4bn) that Saudis are said to spend abroad annually, with Vision 2030 targeting a doubling of household spending on entertainment domestically.

QIC was formed in May 2018 as a closed joint-stock company wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia. The project broke ground in April 2018 and phase one is set to open in 2022. A three-phase approach is currently underway for the entire project.

TheStadiumBusiness.com spoke to Almamoun Alshinghiti, executive director of sports at Qiddiya, to find out more about the vision behind the project…

TheStadiumBusiness.com: What is Qiddiya’s projected cost and how is the project being financed?

Almamoun Alshinghiti: “We are called a giga-project – and this should give you an indication of the project’s scale of investments and costs. What’s more important than the cost of the project, is the socio-economic benefits of the project, like providing tens of thousands of new jobs and enhancing the quality of life in Saudi, unlocking the entertainment, sports, and arts sectors for the Saudi market.”

TSB: How do you anticipate the running costs of the development will be financed once the stadium and arenas are open, and to what extent will the PIF continue to support the project?

AA: “Certainly, the investment requirements are substantial, but they are supported by solid economic performance that will stem from these investments.”

TSB: In terms of the stadium and the arenas being planned, what would you say are their key design features? What will make them stand out against other similar facilities in the region and globally?

AA: “The key design features of the 20,000-seat stadium will be its aesthetic integration with its natural surroundings on the edge of a 250m high cliff and a one-sided seating bowl that boasts panoramic views over the Resort Core, including an F1 track, Six Flags, Water Park, and Festival Grounds. A 18,000-capacity multi-purpose indoor arena will also stand alongside an aquatic centre and a sports hub capable of hosting a cross-section of individual activities and events.

“What distinguishes Qiddiya from other global entertainment destinations is that Qiddiya will be poised to host any sort of sporting event or recreational activity according to the tastes of spectators and sports professionals. Evidence of this lies in the famed Dakar Rally moving to Saudi Arabia in 2019, with the heart-stopping race coming to a close and crowning its champions at Qiddiya.”

TSB: What will be the signature elements of the Speed Park, and how will the race circuit stand apart from a design perspective?

AA: “As a global first, Qiddiya is slated to become the motorsports capital of the world. For motorsports enthusiasts, the Speed Park is the first comprehensive motor sports park with two racetracks and several other amenities related to exciting motorsports.

“The park will also include showrooms, retail areas, a driver’s club and a luxury hotel within its gates. As such, the diversity and sheer size of these facilities sets them apart from other regional offerings.”

TSB: Have the operators for the stadium and different arenas been identified yet? If not, when will they be appointed?

AA: “We are currently engaging a number of top global operators to begin developing a framework to ensure all asset development proceeds according to solid operational strategies. Industry observers should anticipate major announcements in the future regarding Qiddiya’s selection of partners to operate and develop the stadium and its key features.”

TSB: What have been the main challenges and problems for Qiddiya to date and how have these been overcome?

AA: “Some of the most astounding characteristics of Qiddiya are also its most exciting challenges. Namely, the complexity and size of this giga-project are reminders that a project of this scale and scope has never been seen before in the Kingdom.

“With the recent release of the masterplan, we successfully took on the challenge of working as one cohesive unit to articulate the unparalleled assets that Qiddiya will offer to the world upon its opening. Now that we have celebrated its release, we look forward to making these strategic developments come to life.”

TSB: Looking to the future, how will QIC seek to ensure the stadium, arenas and Speed Park are fully utilised when complete, and what kind of sports and entertainment events will be targeted?

AA: “A holistic programming approach was used to ensure a wide array of sports were covered across all age groups. Concerted analysis revealed the sports that were most popular among Saudis seeking to sharpen their skills or play recreationally. As a result, we are confident that Qiddiya’s sports portfolio will attract visitors from all age groups and skill levels.

“In regards to entertainment, we are currently targeting global operators in our pursuit of strategic partners who will help ensure that attendance and interest in our sporting and leisure facilities remains consistently high.”

TSB: What are your projections for visitor numbers for the different areas? Is there scope for additional development on the site, or is the 70% that has been allocated for conservation blocked from future developments?

AA: “Qiddiya is meant to delight visitors of all ages and tastes. We anticipate that when core areas are fully operational along with peripheral attractions in sports, entertainment, and the arts, we will draw millions of visitors from Riyadh and beyond.

“Since Qiddiya’s leisure offerings will change over time in response to the most thrilling market options, a portion of the 70% of the land that is currently undeveloped will be eligible for future development and a proportion of the site will remain earmarked for conservation.”