Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has enacted several measures to increase the entertainment industry. This agenda has been pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman through his Vision 2030 platform, which focuses on leveraging opportunities in non-oil revenue streams to improve the Kingdom’s economy. In 2018, the average total household expenditure on cultural and entertainment activities in the country was 2.9 percent. The government hopes to see that figure reach 6 percent by 2030.
One of the ways in which the Kingdom hopes to accomplish this goal is through the removal of its ban on movie theaters. In 2018, Marvel’s Black Panther was the first film to be shown in a public space in Saudi Arabia since the early 1980s, and AMC, the operator of the theater that screened the film, intends to build 40 cinemas over the course of the next five years. Cultural, recreational, and entertainment spending should further increase with the development of the King Salman Park and Sports Boulevard, both of which were announced by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, in March 2019.
King Salman Park
Construction will begin during the second half of 2019 on what is intended to become the world’s largest urban park, King Salman Park. Expected to encompass 13.4 square kilometers, the park will be five times larger than Hyde Park in London and four times larger than Central Park in New York City. King Salman Park will include in excess of 160 attractions and features with an emphasis on culture, sports, the arts, and entertainment.
The park will be situated in the capital city of Riyadh and will be accessible via six roads and arteries in the city, as well as 10 bus stations and five Riyadh Metro Green Line stations. The sprawling complex will include a world-class 18-hole golf course, a 140,000-square-meter water park, 50,000-square-meter gymnasium, a virtual reality playground, and a bungee jumping and parachuting center, the latter two of which will be the first of their kind in Saudi Arabia.
While the construction of sports and entertainment infrastructure will be a central component of the first phase of the project, the park will also have a considerable amount of green space: 9.3 million square meters, to be exact. There will also be 300,000 square meters of water features and a 7.2-kilometer circular pathway surrounding the park.
Once complete, King Salman Park will serve as a “human space that will bring back the human life to Riyadh, rather than the current situation where cars are the main means of transportation and there is little consideration for the natural human need to walk, ride bicycles, and go running,” explained Basem Alshihabi, who serves as managing partner of Omrania, which was awarded the design contract for the park.
The first phase of King Salman Park is expected to be complete before 2020, while the entire project will conclude by 2024, by which point the park is expected to attract roughly 400,000 visitors per day.
Also announced in conjunction with plans for King Salman Park was Sports Boulevard, which will promote green space and encourage healthy lifestyles through its abundance of athletic facilities. Extending for 135 kilometers across Riyadh, Sports Boulevard will include numerous green pathways for pedestrians as well as designated routes for amateur and professional cyclists and horse riding. Sports Boulevard will be divided into eight zones, each of which will serve different purposes.
Zone 2, also known as Art Zone, for instance, will include landmarks and public art installations. Zone 4, Recreation Zone, will feature 40-kilometer viaducts for professional cyclists and a venue for interactive audio-visual performances. Its open spaces will kept cool in the summer months via high-tech cooling systems.
Sports Boulevard’s Zone 5, Sports Zone, will feature a high-rise building with each floor designated for specific sports, with a velodrome built underground. In total, the zone will have 18 basketball courts, 16 football pitches, 12 volleyball courts, and a ski park. Other zones will include coffee shops, retail outlets, camping areas, and bike maintenance centers.
Additional Urban Development Plans
Sports Boulevard and King Salman Park are two of four major initiatives intended to improve recreational space, boost tourism, and drive economic growth in Saudi Arabia. The other two, also announced in March by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, are Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art.
Focusing on afforestation in the country, Green Riyadh will see the planting of more than 7.5 million trees throughout the capital, in and around 9,000 mosques, 6,000 schools, and 3,330 neighborhood gardens. The ambitious project will eventually increase Riyadh’s green space per capita from 1.7 square meters to 28 square meters. It will also include the development of irrigation networks, although an emphasis will be placed on water reuse and native plant species to conserve water.
Riyadh Art, meanwhile, is an 11-zone project that will see in excess of 1,000 pieces of artwork and installations placed throughout the city. Artists will create sculptures along important traffic intersections and bus stations, and will be encouraged to design playgrounds in neighborhood gardens.
The four projects are expected to cost a combined $23 billion and will create 70,000 jobs.