LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Less than a month before the World Cup finals are held, Lusail City is strangely quiet.
Wide empty streets, idle lobbies and construction cranes are all over the posh neighborhood 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital Doha, built to house World Cup fans and hundreds of thousands of residents of host country Qatar.
But with football’s biggest event underway, the empty futuristic city raises questions about how much use the infrastructure Qatar built for the event will get after more than a million football fans leave the tiny Gulf Arab country after the tournament.
Elias Garcia, a 50-year-old entrepreneur from San Francisco, visited Lusail City from Doha with a friend on a day when there was no football game at the city’s bowl-shaped, golden stadium.
“We came to look, but there’s not much here,” Garcia said, looking up at a huge crescent-shaped skyscraper behind him, designed to look like the curved swords on Qatar’s national emblem.
Across the street, a construction site was hidden behind a low fence, illustrated with desert scenes. “Everything looks like it’s under construction,” Garcia said. “It’s just empty lots with little walls that they’ve put up to make you think it’s in use.”
Driving north from Doha, Lusail City’s glittering skyline and marina are hard to miss. Pastel-colored towers that look like stacked crates rise from the desert. Wide avenues give way to zigzagging buildings, glass domes and clusters of neoclassical housing blocks. It is unclear if anyone lives in it. Most are advertised as luxury hotels, apartments or commercial office space. Cranes hang above many buildings.
Plans for Lusail City had been around since 2005, but construction gained momentum after Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup five years later. Backed by Qatar’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the city is designed to be compact and pedestrian-friendly and is connected by Doha’s new metro and a light rail.
Fahad Al Jahamri, who manages projects at Qatari Diar, the real estate company behind the city backed by Qatar’s investment authority, has called Lusail City a self-contained “extension of Doha.”
Officials have also said the city is part of wider plans natural gas-rich Qatar has to build its knowledge-based economy – an admission of the type of white-collar workers the country hopes to attract to the city in the long run.
But reaching the goal of housing 400,000 people in Lusail City could prove difficult in a country where only 300,000 people are citizens and many of the 2.9 million residents are poor migrants living in camps, not luxury towers.
Even during the World Cup, Lusail City is noticeably quieter than Doha, itself the location where an incredible amount of construction has taken place over the past decade in preparation for the event.
On the Place Vendôme, a luxury shopping center named after the large Parisian square, many shops are not yet open. A few tourists snapped photos of the Lusail City skyline from the mall on a recent afternoon as cashiers chatted to each other. At a downtown building that houses the Ministry of Culture and other government offices, a security guard said nearly everyone had left by 11 a.m.
“Even on the subway, if you go on a day when there’s no game, there’s five to 10 people next to you,” Garcia said.
On the man-made Al Maha Island, a crowd of World Cup fans and locals lounged at a posh beach club, pulling shisha pipes and diving into a swimming pool.
Timothe Burt-Riley led workers to an art gallery that opened later that evening. The French gallery director said Lusail City – or at least Al Maha Island with its theme park, luxury boutiques, restaurants and lounges – would be a place where locals meet.
“This is a completely man-made island,” said Burt-Riley, “it’s pretty crazy what they can do.”
He said Qatar could find a way to use the infrastructure it has built for the World Cup, including seven new football stadiums, but admitted “it could take time”.
Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham
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