Serbia gives go-ahead to UAE development plan for Belgrade

Serbia gives go-ahead to UAE development plan for Belgrade

Serbia gives go-ahead to UAE development plan for Belgrade

Belgrade mayor Mali show a scale model of the Belgrade Waterfront project in Belgrade. REUTERS Photo

Lawmakers in Serbia gave the green light to a riverside development project in Belgrade, bankrolled by an Abu Dhabi investor but deeply dividing residents of the capital. 

Developers hope to break ground on Belgrade Waterfront this year, transforming a bleak wasteland on the east bank of the Sava River over at least the next 10 years into a forest of gleaming metal and glass at a cost of at least 3 billion euros ($3.25 billion). 

The conservative government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says the project will generate 20,000 jobs and breathe new life into Serbia’s anemic economy. Critics say it is an expensive gamble, rammed through with little public consultation and scant care for the character of the centuries-old city. 

It is the crowning project of an unlikely alliance between the United Arab Emirates and Serbia under Vucic, spanning defense, agriculture and cheap financing. 

Serbia’s 250-seat parliament voted late on April 9 by 176 to nine to adopt a special public interest law that allows for the expropriation of land and issuing of building permits for the project. The rest of the lawmakers were not present for the vote after three days of often acrimonious debate. 

Under the plans, on 1.8 million square meters of land will rise 5,700 apartments, 2,200 hotel rooms, offices for 12,700 people, a sprawling shopping mall and a curvaceous 200-metre Dubai-style tower. 

“Great cities are built on great dreams,” Vucic said in proposing the bill to parliament on April 7. 

“I didn’t expect such resistance to modernization, to progress, to something so beautiful for which we didn’t have the money; but now we have the money,” Vucic said, comparing the opposition to that encountered by the architects of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and The Shard in London. 

The project marks the first foray into central and eastern Europe by Abu Dhabi-based Eagle Hills and UAE real estate tycoon Mohamed Alabbar.