Saudi sovereign fund plans entertainment centers across kingdom

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund will set up a network of entertainment centers across the kingdom...

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund will set up a network of entertainment centers across the kingdom as the government tries to jump-start a domestic leisure industry, the chairman of the company carrying out the plan said on Sunday.

Abdullah al-Dawood, chairman of Development and Investment Entertainment Company (DIEC), said his firm envisaged about 20 centers, each around 50,000 to 100,000 sq metres (540,000 to 1.1 million sq feet), in 14 or 15 cities.

DIEC, established in January by the Public Investment Fund, will invite private companies to invest alongside it on a commercial basis, aiming to set the centers up over the next several years, Dawood said.

The centers would feature entertainment facilities such as cinemas as well as venues for public performances — part of a government plan to foster a flowering of Saudi art and culture — plus restaurants and retail space.

“We need to ignite investment by the private sector, so the government is taking the lead in this,” Dawood told Reuters on the sidelines of a business conference in Jeddah.

Decades of tight social restrictions left Saudi Arabia with few forms of public entertainment. The government now aims to change that, partly because it wants to use the leisure sector to create jobs and diversify the economy beyond oil exports.

Although DIEC, with initial funding of 10 billion riyals ($2.7 billion) provided by the deep-pocketed Public Investment Fund, will take the lead in major entertainment industry projects, Dawood stressed that it intended all of its projects to be commercially viable.

Last month, DIEC and U.S. theater operator AMC Entertainment Holding staged the first public showing of a commercial movie in almost 40 years as a ban on cinemas was lifted.

A few days later, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the ground-breaking ceremony for a huge resort area near Riyadh that is to feature a Six Flags theme park, water parks, motor sports and cultural events.

Dawood, also chief executive of Al Tayyar Travel Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s top travel companies, said on Sunday that DIEC also planned to establish two other clusters of theme parks: one in the Jeddah area and one on the other side of the country in Eastern Province.

Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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