(MENAFN - Arab News) The historic district in Jeddah is on the verge of witnessing an unprecedented developmental boom, said Awad Hashim Al-Maliki in an exclusive interview with Nadim Al-Hamid of Arab News. Jeddah Secretariat and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) aim to transform the area with an integrated set of plans for its improvement and eventual development into an international tourism attraction.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Arab News: What are your plans for the development of the historical district to accommodate local and international visitors?
Awad Hashim Al-Maliki: "A set of integrated plans has been designed for the improvement and development of the area, stemming out of the important historic value of the district. Both the government and the private sector are involved in this process to ensure that the opinions of each are consistent with the objectives of the owners for the development of these houses. Cooperation will also make it easier to get the needed permits for the restoration of these houses.
"We are working on three categories of houses in this field. Firstly, there are the dilapidated historic buildings. These will get a priority to remove any hazards. Secondly, there are historic buildings that need to be restored to their original condition. Three quarters of the houses in this area resort to this category. Lastly, we have concrete buildings. Some of these have a history to tell about heroic struggles. Others are modern buildings that have been constructed within the borders of the historic district that we have selected for our comprehensive program.
"On the empty land lots, we will work hard to rebuild the same old structures that were erected there in the past. We also aim to rebuild the old Jeddah wall, with detailed information about its history and objectives.
"We will draw up a comprehensive plan for tiling all spaces surrounding the historic district. The lighting designs of the area will be kept traditional. All modern elements of dcor will be removed, such as aluminum, iron, random telephone and electricity cables and other features.
"Renovation works will still continue in the district. As we will want to keep traffic to a minimum, except for necessities, small carts will be provided to commuting visitors. We are considering the introduction of traditional transportation in the area, such as horses, camels and mules that will use clearly defined routes.
"All billboards will be designed in a consistent manner according to old traditional designs. Special areas will be allocated to popular markets and the display of traditional crafts.
"A number of historical houses will serve as unique hotels. There will also be a number of traditional cafes. Some houses will be transformed to museums, with space for festivals and celebrations. Other areas will have aesthetic features such as waterfalls and fountains.
"A brochure will be developed about the history of the area and details of its residents, handcrafts and prominent figures and families living in the city."
The district lacks safety measures. It witnessed a number of fires recently. What will the Secretariat do to ensure the safety of residents and visitors?
"This issue is a priority for the Secretariat. So, our plans include the removal of warehouses, a ban on the display of textures and clothes inside the houses, on open streets and on walls. Also, restaurants should meet all requirements of safety, and are prohibited from using old houses as kitchens to prepare meals. The project for providing special equipment for firefighting in the district will be activated and circulated to all parties concerned. In addition, we will launch an awareness program for citizens so they can share the responsibility and find solutions to all maintenance problems concerning the premises, streets, and electricity."
House owners have complained that the Secretariat would not allow them to maintain and restore their houses. What is your reply to that?
"The most important objective of the Municipality for the historic district of Jeddah city is to find ways to restore and maintain historic buildings to preserve their old identity. Any other works of restoration will violate regulations of secretariats and municipalities, locally and internationally."
Illegal Africans currently inhabit this area. This is bound to affect its reputation. What are the steps has the Secretariat taken in this regard?
"This is true, several nationalities live here, some with legal residency. As an authority, we work within the framework of regulations and laws of the Kingdom in this context. We conduct daily field inspection tours with the cooperation of the related bodies to work on a solution."
A negative feature of the historic district is the increasing number of damaged vehicles, dirty streets with potholes, broken sidewalks, and poor lighting. What steps did you take in this regard?
"The damaged vehicles are treated within the regulations concerning such cases in Jeddah. Before confiscating any damaged vehicle, a warning is issued to remove it. As for the potholes, the broken sidewalks, lighting and other issues, these rank among our top priorities. Visitors will see results soon."
Such renovations cost a great deal of money. Who shall bear these costs? What are the amounts expected to complete the project?
"The party, or parties, that will bear the costs of the project have not yet been announced. This will be done when the implementation of the project starts on the ground. We established a department for technical studies, which will work alongside other departments to develop a study on the actual image of the whole area."
How much coordination is going on with SCTA to improve and develop the historic area?
"There is always a close cooperation with SCTA on numerous development projects, as well as meetings with the owners of the houses to develop the district. The SCTA has an important promotional role in this regard. It will emphasize the heritage side of the city."
Did you happen to record any cases of intrusion within the borders of the area, aimed at the destruction of property? What steps did you take in this regard?
The fact is we did, unfortunately. We need to intensify the awareness campaign for the residents there. The Secretariat recently held one of those campaigns aimed at the prevention of randomly dumped garbage and leftovers along the streets, and writings and drawings on the walls."