Saudi Arabia will be pumping $23 billion into a massive beautification project for its capital Riyadh, its government has announced.
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The plan, which will incorporate green space, recreational areas and more than 1,000 art installations, seeks to improve quality of life for the capital’s 5 million residents and prepare the country for the opening up of its tourism sector.
The project will also open up private investment opportunities to the tune of $15 billion, the government said Tuesday. It’s the latest in a series of developments being launched as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, an initiative aimed at diversifying the oil-rich monarchy’s revenue sources and creating private sector jobs.
Diagrams of the plan outlined 84 miles of cycling track and a park that’s quadruple the size of Central Park. Work will begin in the second-half of this year and will be completed between 2023 and 2030, creating 70,000 jobs, according to state news agency SPA.
The announcement comes on the heels of Western media reports alleging a growing rift between the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman. The government has not responded to these reports, and the king has ordered one of Riyadh’s main roads named after his son.
The kingdom has touted a number of high-profile events, including its hosting of the Formula E championship last December and World Wrestling Entertainment tournaments, as evidence of a society known for its strict conservatism opening up to the world. The powerful Mohammed bin Salman has championed a more liberal vision of Saudi Arabia, which has the support of many young Saudis.
“In Vision 2030 and in the Crown Prince’s dynamic vision, tourism is next, because it’s a tremendous generator of jobs,” Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority, told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Tuesday.
Inzerillo is tasked with overseeing the restoration of the historic town of Diriyah, the original home of the Saudi Royal family and a UNESCO heritage site. Positioned on the outskirts of Riyadh, Diriyah will be the site of a 23 million square foot giga-project encompassing new museums, restaurants, entertainment venues and high-end retail that will invite numerous major international brands into the country.
“Every million people that come, 119,000 new jobs. We will attract 7 million people here by 2023,” Inzerillo said. “We’re on a very fast track.”
Tourism, however, may be a gamble as the kingdom faces geopolitical headwinds spurred by domestic and foreign policies. Saudi Arabia still bears the reputational consequences of the October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA concludes took place at the direction of the Crown Prince, a charge the royal family fiercely denies.
And despite lifting a driving ban on women, Saudi Arabia is still well known for its poor record on women’s rights and is criticized abroad for harsh crackdowns on dissent. Ten female driving activists were put on trial last week after months of allegations that they were tortured while in prison.
Winning foreign investment for tourism developments is key for the kingdom as it tries to refocus its image and move on from the Khashoggi fallout, as well as maintain a high living standard for Saudis as oil prices come down.
Originally published at CNBC