Belgrade Waterfront: an unlikely place for Gulf petrodollars to settle
Belgrade Waterfront is a €3.5bn (£2.5bn) project of condominiums, hotels, offices, retail, parks and paths dominated by a glass skyscraper that will be the tallest between Vienna and Istanbul. Its developer is Abu Dhabi-based Eagle Hills, chaired by Mohamed Alabbar, who previously founded Emaar, builders of the world’s largest shopping mall and tallest building, both in Dubai. Their project manager in Belgrade, Nikola Nedeljkovic, says that “we envisage Belgrade Waterfront to be a game-changing hub for Serbia”, and that it “takes into consideration the balanced sensitivity to nature, culture and modernity”.
(..)The model shows the entire 1.77 sq km district – a core of dense high-rise buildings, dominated by a glass tower that is twisted in the middle. Called the Kula Beograd, the tower has been designed by the Chicago office of skyscraper architecture titans SOM, and would overlook the River Sava and the new 1.8km Sava Promenade.
Also part of the masterplan is the Balkans’ largest shopping mall, a soap-bubble dome on disused railway land further away from the river. Its 140,000 sq m would make it almost as big as London’s Westfield Stratford. Surrounding the mall would be upwards of 6,000 flats. “We’re trying to focus on the affordable as well as the high-end segments,” Nedeljkovic says. “We’re trying to have a diverse mix of product.” The mix is not obvious in the model. There are offices, of course, and hotels, including a including a swanky W Hotel to open in 2019. Parkland and tree-lined boulevards are spread liberally. Belgrade’s 1884 railway station will become a museum.
(..)The movement Neda(vi)mo Beograd (a pun that loosely translates as “We won’t let Belgrade d(r)own”) organises street protests against Belgrade Waterfront. They carry yellow ducks and rally behind a gigantic oversized duck the size of a car.
Dobrica Veselinović, one of the movement’s activists, alleges that the agreement to build Belgrade Waterfront is contrary to Serbian law and procedures because he claims that the promenade construction works started without a building permit. He adds: “It does not take into account the needs of society or economic and urban reality in Belgrade.” The group argues that local people were not consulted, that the deal does not provide adequate affordable housing and that it was done in secret.
They also say that families in the area were summarily evicted with mere days’ warning, and their houses demolished. Radio Television of Vojvodina (RTV), a public broadcaster in neighbouring Vojvodina province, ran a report in April interviewing some of the families who said their houses were destroyed without permission. The apartments in which they were resettled were only for limited periods or to buy, according to Veselinović, and “no social service or legal assistance was offered to them”. (Continua)