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The F&B industry drives the retail market

The commercial landscape of Beirut evolves apace with restaurant operators’ appetite. The F&B industry undoubtedly dictates the development of commercial hubs across the capital. F&B operators move in tandem from one location to another. Growing demand for a particular area has immediate repercussions on asking rental values. When they migrate, they also do it as a group, and prices drop sharply. Within a few months, a neighborhood could go from being a slumbering residential area to a buzzing attraction hub to night prowlers. It is a mad race then between established and startup F&B concept operators to find the best locations – at the best deals. The mood of the F&B chiefs makes or breaks a particular location. Retail areas move at the rhythm of their whims – as testify the following four examples: Maarad Street, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhael, and Badaro.

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The Transformation of Ras el Nabeh

The area of Ras el Nabeh is a near perfect right triangle delimitated by three major highways: Abdallah Yafi (formerly called Fouad I), Bechara el Khoury, and Damascus. Ras el Nabeh is a central residential neighborhood that is located almost midway between western and eastern Beirut. The northernmost tip of the triangle is less than 350 meters from the southern border of BCD, making it a very short walk from the trendiest, most prestigious, and best planned urban environment in the capital. Thanks to the surrounding traffic axes, Ras el Nabeh is easy to access, while its inner streets are quiet, insulated from the surrounding traffic – and its noise. This island-like quality has confirmed Ras el Nabeh as one of the city’s most sought-after residential neighborhoods. Since 2005, the area has been undergoing a surge of activity – construction sites are counted by the dozens. Sales ratios seem to indicate that the area’s popularity is likely to endure in the face of the current general stagnation.

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Karantina – Investors’ Playground

The area of Karantina may no longer be the official quarantine of the Port of Beirut, but it is still stigmatized by its former reputation. Over the past few decades, several new addenda to the area have further deteriorated its image. Karantina is still closely associated with the refugee camp and “Arab el Maslakh” slums. It is also home to a number of polluting industries – the slaughterhouse, the Sukleen main dumpsite, and recycling plant. Karantina has an army barracks, a fire department, and several industrial sites – mainly large steel warehouses. The area, however, has several advantages playing in its favor. It is one of the largest potential land banks in Beirut. It is also a flat strip of land, very easy to re-allot and develop, and centrally located, immediately South of the main basin of the Port of Beirut, with very easy access from one of Beirut’s main traffic arteries. For all these reasons, Karantina is currently the preferred playground of heavyweight real estate investors, who juggle property portfolios with purely speculative motives. The price of buildable BUA currently varies between USD 500-1,400, depending on plots’ location.

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BCD Beirut’s Business Central District

BCD is the prime office hub of Beirut – impeccable urban planning, high concentration of dedicated office BUA, stock of good quality, and excellent amenities are all advantages that very few other areas can claim, and certainly none on such a large scale. These many advantages make BCD one of the most expensive office stocks in town, which post some of the highest occupancy rates in Beirut. BCD, however, also has some major drawbacks that hamper its further development, such as the presence of a number of high-security institutions (the Parliament, a number of ministries, the UN House, the Embassy Complex, etc.), and a higher sensitivity to any security or political upheavals.

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Sassine Square

The launching of ABC Mall in 2004 rejuvenated the entire area around Sassine Square. Although, with more than 50,000 SQM of global leasable area (GLA) and around 200 retail units, the mall dominates the market and attracts the most important local and international brands, it has revitalized the entire neighborhood. Sassine Square, which had been an aging market growing slightly dilapidated, found its place again on the retail map of Beirut. ABC Mall plays an important role in attracting footfall to Sassine Square, although it retains the monopoly of the star-brands. Sassine Square has specialized in less glamorous shops but that rely on a high turnover of customers.

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Bliss Street

Bliss Street is a crumbling address. It is an accumulation of low-end retail shops – accessory stores, neighborhood grocery stores, fast food joints…. Some buildings will soon be demolished, three projects are under construction, and the rest of the street is made up of a number of old one- to three-floor buildings in a very poor state of repair. Yet, despite its run-down state, Bliss Street is still one of the busiest retail streets of Ras Beirut and a recognized residential address.

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Offices on Sassine

Sassine Square is the uncontested historical heart of Ashrafieh. It is the place for public gatherings and demonstrations as well as public, cultural and artistic events. It is also a known business destination although only a dozen office buildings out of more than 100 in Ashrafieh are located in that neighborhood. Despite the fact that it is not a prime office center, Sassine and its immediate surroundings are a high-performing niche market. Future prospects are rather limited, as the area lacks vacant plots ready for development and is difficult to access particularly in peak hours. The limited stock, however, ensures the continued good performance of the sector.

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