Dubai developer plans ‘largest scheme in eastern Europe’ to draw Gulf investors

A Dubai developer will invest $4.9bn in an unprecedented luxury property scheme near Sarajevo to cater for an increasing number of Middle-Eastern visitors drawn to the scenic mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has a large Muslim population.

Buroj Property Development’s "Buroj Ozone" is a 1.3-million-sq-m development comprising hotels, a hospital, a giant mall and second homes aimed at buyers in the Middle East.

Billed by Buroj chief executive Ismail Ahmed as the largest real estate investment in eastern Europe, Ozone will be built in the municipality of Trnovo in the shadow of Bjelasnica and Igman mountains, 30km south of the capital Sarajevo and scene of the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Buroj will be hoping to capitalise on a recent tourism surge in the country devastated by the 1992-95 Bosnian war, and on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s desire to court investment from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Ismail Ahmed signed project agreements with Ibro Berilo, mayor of Trnovo municipality, in February and June of this year, but the scale of Buroj’s investment has increased dramatically in recent days.

Bakir Izetbegović, chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency, accepts Emirati memento from Buroj chief executive, Ismail Ahmed (Buroj Property Development)

In August the size of Buroj’s investment was given as $2.7bn (UAE 10bn dirhams), but now that figure has nearly doubled, with Ismail Ahmed telling a news conference in Sarajevo on 10 October that Buroj would invest €4.3bn ($4.9bn) in Ozone over the next eight years.

"The aim of this unique project is to turn Bosnia and Herzegovina into a tourism leader of southeast Europe and to put its rich natural resources at the disposal of local and international clients," Ahmed said.

The company says it is planning to finance the work from its own resources.

Ahmed told the news conference that construction would begin in April or May next year, Reuters reported.

A three-bedroom villa in Ozone will cost €231,000 ($263,400), says the Sarajevo Times. As well as luxury villas for sale, Ozone will include a 1-million-sq-ft shopping centre, to be called the Zayed Mall, a hospital, and a sports complex.

Ahmed told a Dubai newspaper in August that Ozone would be the largest real estate investment in eastern Europe.

He said he wanted to double the flow of tourists to Bosnia from the UAE by 2016, and increase inward investment.

Tourism is expanding in the Balkan country, whose largely Muslim Bosniak population represents approximately 45% of the whole.

The layout of the Buroj Ozone development (Buroj Property Development)

According to the country’s statistics agency, in the period from January to July 2015 tourist arrivals were up by 28% over the same period last year.

Visitor numbers from the Gulf states are growing quickly every year, said Bakir Izetbegović, chairman of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej in August, adding that his government is taking measures to support UAE investments.

In December low-cost airline flydubai launched its first direct route to Sarajevo.

A promotional video for the Buroj Ozone, uploaded to YouTube in February, can be viewed here.

Top photograph: Mount Igman at Trnovo, with ski jumps used in the 1984 Winter Olympics (Wikimedia Commons)

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