The search for the best location to host a meeting or event is always frantic. Trying to find an unconventional space, complete with amenities, easy access and within a digitized community is an even bigger challenge.
Whether you need a small meeting space or to host an event with up to 300 people in a state-of-the-art location in the heart of the city… That’s where the Beirut Digital District (BDD) comes in. BDD’s offerings include customizable spaces for meetings and events of all sizes, fully equipped and with access to amenities.
The range of meeting and event spaces include:
– Main hall: Perfect for big conferences and networking events
o Theatre style: 200 pax
o Standing: 300 pax
o Equipped with: Projector and screen, sound system, internet access and a coffee break area
– Rooftop: For outdoor gatherings with a view of the city
The vision of the Beirut Digital District may have seemed like a far-fetched dream when word started to spread. In a country that is already crowded, bustling with sights and sounds, questions arose as to where the space for such an ambitious project would be made in the heart of Beirut.
With a masterplan in place, the blueprint of the community was laid out. Phase after phase, the team behind the Beirut Digital District outlined just how dreams could and would be realized.
It was in 2012 that the first part of the unique cluster of innovation became a reality. Gathering the digital and creative community, the Beirut Digital District’s mission began to spread, attracting companies and individuals to be part of a groundbreaking movement.
Mouhamad Rabah, BDD’s CEO, shares the driving force behind the development, intended to serve as a community where dreams could grow and companies could flourish. “The objective was for Lebanon to become a production hub, to ultimately reverse brain drain,” he shares. “By building a sustainable community, we aimed to create employment opportunities and fuel growth, both locally and globally,” he explains.
Today, the Beirut Digital District has taken on a life of its own, powered every day, by over 1,500 community members. The energy that flows from the growing district to neighboring, areas cannot be missed.
The Bachoura District was ravaged by the Lebanese Civil War, with bullet holes and visible destruction changing the landscape of the area, that once buzzed vibrantly with life and business ventures. Today, the face of the Bachoura District is buzzing to a different beat – that of the Beirut Digital District (BDD).
Existing on the demarcation line separating East and West Beirut, BDD is rebuilding the area, while preserving national heritage. This project is part of BDD’s core values to preserve and restore existing Lebanese heritage while integrating modern and sustainable construction concepts.
In their latest collaboration with Live Love, BDD showcases the restoration project of the historic St. Georges Church, that was devastated by the war. Built in 1878, the St. Georges Church will be completely renovated by the end of 2020 (construction works were kicked off in 2017). Its unique architecture has already received international acclaim, awarded by ‘The American Institute of Architects Los Angeles’.
Traditional workspaces have taken on a different form in recent years, due to increased connectivity and the rise in popularity of coworking spaces. According to a recent Research Gate study, people that opt to work from coworking spaces thrive more – averaging a 6 on a 7-point scale. This is one point higher than people working in traditional office environments.
At the Beirut Digital District (BDD), coworking spaces have been buzzing with creativity, new ideas, conversations, and brainstorming sessions, since they were founded. Defined as a “unique cluster of innovation for the digital and creative community”, the district is the sole of its kind in Lebanon. Walk past the allocated areas with hot desks, and hear the chatter of enticing conversations, ideas exchanged, the clicking of keyboards and the odd entrepreneur gazing out the window to take a break.
Beyond the desks and laptops, the coworking spaces at BDD were built around a grander vision. Firstly, the community of professionals is diverse and includes over 1,500 people, from different companies and industries. However, the team behind the masterplan went one step further, to offer people a space where they can work, but also enrich their lives. At any time during the year, sports and leisure activities are available on a schedule, for community members to take part in. In addition, social and chill zones offer professionals a break from work, with ample social spaces, a central garden area, a gaming area, and a Little Free Library, for book sharing and swapping.
Every month, events are hosted, marking national holidays, and catering to hobbies and ambitions that the BDD community shares. The networking and specialized events agenda is even more jam-packed, with international speakers and experts visiting BDD on a monthly basis, to bring global expertise to the local market.
At the core, however, coworking spaces offer people a platform to thrive, and BDD finds that it is primarily due to the diversity of people, companies, and projects that exist. Research shows that people feel freer to express themselves and allow their true personalities to surface, due to the lack of internal politics and confined cultures in these spaces. Everyone, it seems, has an interesting story to tell their coworking peers, and relationships between strangers can be fostered in this space.
To further delve into the popularity of shared spaces, individuals behind the brightest ideas and aspiring ventures at BDD’s coworking spaces were interviewed, to uncover the perceived benefits of coworking at BDD. Here are the top three findings:
1) An overall sense of wellbeing
The primary finding was that people in coworking spaces felt that the setting provided them with a healthy work/life balance, with the right amenities just a short walk away. In addition, the efficiency of the spaces, along with the spirit of collaboration helped fuel their projects. The trend that was apparent, is that people are spending less time working alone, and more time collaborating, socializing and learning.
2) Networking & collaboration top the charts for startups and freelancers
For startups and freelancers, the reason they choose coworking spaces was tied to two factors. Firstly, to collaborate with others and secondly, to network. The support activities provided at BDD and other coworking spaces aided in their growth trajectory.
3) Ideal coworking spaces mix open & quiet environments
However, not all coworking spaces are created equal. The BDD team asked individuals in the coworking facilities to envision what ideal spaces should be like. The majority were in favor of open environments but also wanted private spaces to focus. The availability of hybrid settings was a core requirement, which offers both amenities and a workspace beyond the traditional desk. This includes work cafes, quiet zones and of course, innovation hubs to be inspired.
Their happiest moments, however, were outside the office space, during organized happy hours, social events and sports competitions at BDD.
Since the BDD coworking space opened its desks to entrepreneurs and freelancers, like-minded people have gathered, sharing knowledge and expertise, and business opportunities have been created as a result. The masterplan is currently being realized, one phase at a time, to accommodate over 10,000 creative individuals, to live, work and play.
Lebanon’s real estate sector has taken a hit in recent years, where a multitude of factors have led to dwindling demand among endless supply.
Real estate sector has been on the decline for years
Supply has far exceeded demand
Inflation has been plaguing the market for almost a decade now
In Lebanon’s ailing economy, a few sectors have stood the strain and continued to see production despite all. One of these sectors has been real estate. Yet, while the production has existed, the demand hasn’t. What’s keeping buyers away?
The usual suspects
In truth, a variety of factors are behind bringing Lebanon’s real estate sector to its knees.
“Political tension and the economic crisis in the region are the main drivers of the stagnation, as they decreased the demand from Arabs and expats which were the driving force for the real estate market,” Christelle Abou Jaoude, Sales and Marketing Manager at Lebanese real estate company Z.R.E., told AMEinfo. Z.R.E. is the company that brought the Beirut Digital District to life, a distinctive startup hub in the MENA region.
From the Syrian conflict to high unemployment rates and dwindling Gulf investments, things aren’t looking too great. Furthermore, the country can in no shape or form rely solely on local purchases to keep itself afloat – not with the current economic situation, and especially not given the rampant inflation in the market. This inflation reared its head near the late noughties, peaking in 2010.
It’s no secret that Lebanon’s unemployment rates are not an exact picture of health. Unemployment reached 6.3% in 2017, according to Trading Economics, with fresh graduates receiving the brunt of this jobless reality.
All the while, Lebanon’s real estate values have been skyrocketing. It all comes down to basic economics: supply has far exceeded demand. According to Annahar, Chief Financial Market Strategist Jihad El Hokayem believes that you will be able to buy 3 properties for the price of one in Lebanon by 2020.
According to Executive magazine, “the year-on-year comparison through July  shows transactions down almost 10%, with their value declining by nearly 23%. Demand for real estate was down 26% in the first quarter of this year compared to the preceding quarter, and down 24% compared to Q1 2017, results of the Byblos Bank Real Estate Demand Index show.
“Foreign demand has been steadily declining in recent years, with investment from wealthy businessmen based in the Gulf almost non-existent today,” Annahar said.
The nearby Syrian conflict has not helped with the situation either, causing potential investors both local and foreign to think twice before committing to the country. We say local because the Lebanese often seek their fortunes abroad, with expats in the greater diaspora eclipsing local nationals in numbers.
Finally, many Lebanese rely on subsidized housing loans (Iskan loans) from the government to help them complete a purchase. With high unemployment rates and low wages, this should come as no surprise.
The Iskan loan, however, had been discontinued by the end of 2017, leaving many low-earning Lebanon to contend with high rent rates. This will change in 2019, however.
“Lebanon’s housing authority, the Public Corporation for Housing (PCH), is set to restart its subsidy in 2019 for lower-income, first-time homebuyers, thanks to a one-time allocation of $66 million by Parliament,” Executive noted.
This will help get cheaper apartments off the shelf, but higher-end units in areas such as Beirut will remain collecting dust.
McKinsey pitches in
A Lebanese Ministry of Economy-commissioned report, conducted by global consulting firm McKinsey for a $1.3 million fee, paints a very troubling picture of Lebanon.
The scathing 1,200-page report put several sectors under the microscope and pointed to a country teetering on the edge of calamity.
As for its analysis of the real estate sector, it seemed to concur with general opinions of the sector: No one was buying.
As McKinsey notes above, Lebanon is “standing with a stock of vacant apartments valued at [approximately] $9 billion, mainly in luxury developments.”
Abdallah Hayek, CEO of Hayek Engineering and Construction Group, said in an expert discussion with Annahar and Daniel Azzi, former CEO of Standard Chartered Lebanon, that the surplus in the market was aggravated by “non-professional developers who entered the market” during the peak years of 2010, arguing that they played a role in impacting consumer’s confidence in the market as a whole.
“We are faced with a correction, the professionals will survive and the intruders have to figure a way out with minimum losses,” he said.
Azzi agreed, alluding to these “amateur professionals who entered the market at the peak of the bubble” with no prior experience in the real estate sector.
A simple solution?
To compound this supply issue, the fact that Lebanon has been a complete stranger to the concept of urban planning has severely hurt its real estate sector.
Urban planning would allow Lebanon to get a handle on its scattershot approach to urban development, and perhaps regulate the market and its prices.
In Azzi’s opinion, the solution might be even simpler: “The problem can only be solved with major price reductions.”
Indeed, if we follow basic economic principles, the price has nowhere to go except down, regardless of what any pushy real estate agent might tell you. It’s true that Lebanon is a tiny country, and the urban hotspots aren’t getting bigger anytime soon, but this market cannot sustain the inflation it has been propagating for the last 8-9 years.
Z.R.E.’s Abou Jaoude has more positive prospects to share: “The recent formation of the government and the plans to boost the Lebanese economy by working with the EU show that the market is in the process of becoming a stable one.”
She continued: “The main focus would be to boost the Lebanese economy by working on its infrastructure. This gives the Lebanese market a chance to be an attractive one in the region. A country with a stronger infrastructure attracts more investors to its market making it more stable. With that, growing industries including Urban Development / Smart Cities, Fintech, and Agritech, would choose Lebanon to invest in due to the lower costs to be incurred compared to the region.”
Could you indeed buy 3 properties for the price of one by 2020? We’ll have to wait and see. The return of the Iskan subsidies could stoke seller arrogance and trigger higher prices once more, but the market has been suffering, and these same property owners must be dying to make a sale right now.
Beirut-based architecture firm PARALX has designed an apartment building that offers residents in each unit the kind of amenities that are usually only available to penthouse dwellers: gardens and pools. Called the T3 Tower, the proposed structure would be located in the Beirut Digital District, the city’s growing hub for technology and creative industries, which CNN has called “Lebanon’s Silicon Valley.” Read More