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Saudi plans to build leisure complex in Riyadh

Al Hamra Shopping Centre, Saudi Arabia [File photo]

Saudi Arabia announced plans on Wednesday to build an entertainment complex in the capital Riyadh, the latest in a series of state-backed efforts to encourage public leisure activities after decades of tight social restrictions, says Reuters.

The 100,000 square metre complex will be developed by the Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN), a wholly owned subsidiary of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

The project will feature sports activities, live performances, restaurants and cinemas, it said. It did not specify the value of the investment.

The Public Investment Fund established SEVEN last year with initial funding of 10 billion riyals ($2.67 billion) and hired former Disney executive Bill Ernest to run it.

READ: Western tourists trickle into Saudi Arabia as it tries to open up

The company aims to set up about 20 entertainment centres around the country over the next several years, as Saudi Arabia tries to use the leisure sector to create jobs, liberalise social norms and diversify the economy beyond oil exports.

SEVEN has already opened the kingdom’s first cinema in nearly four decades, in partnership with US based AMC Group, and hopes to attract private companies to invest alongside it at all of its projects.

Those plans could be complicated by fallout from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in October, which has led some foreign media and technology companies to distance themselves from the kingdom.

READ: Khashoggi killing derails Bin Salman’s flagship project

Since the murder, British billionaire Richard Branson has suspended his directorship in two PIF (public investment fund)-backed tourism projects along the Red Sea coast. No investors have yet been announced for the ventures.

Hollywood talent agency Endeavor is close to terminating an agreed $400 million investment from PIF over reputational concerns, while Legendary Entertainment said in November it had “no interest” in conducting a proposed transaction with the fund.

However, theme park operator Six Flags is going ahead with plans to open one of its facilities at Qiddiya, a huge resort area the PIF is planning to build outside Riyadh which will also feature water parks, motorsports and cultural events.

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