LUSEIL, Qatar (AP) — Less than a month before the start of the World Cup Finally, Lusail City is oddly quiet.
Wide empty streets, empty lobbies and construction cranes are everywhere in an elegant neighborhood 20km north of the capital Doha, built for World Cup fans and hundreds of thousands of residents in the host nation of Qatar.
But as the biggest football event approaches, the empty, futuristic city is raising questions about how useful the infrastructure built by Qatar for the event will be after more than a million football fans leave the small Arabian Gulf country after the tournament.
Elias Garcia, a 50-year-old business owner from San Francisco, traveled with a friend to Lusail City from Doha on a day when there was no football match at the city’s golden bowl-shaped stadium.
“We came to check it out, but there’s not much here,” Garcia said, looking at the huge crescent-shaped skyscraper behind him, which looks like the curved swords on Qatar’s national emblem.
Across the street, the construction site was hidden by a low fence depicting desert scenes. “It looks like everything is under construction,” Garcia said. “They’re just empty lots with little walls they put up to make you think everything works.”
Heading north from Doha, it’s hard not to notice the glittering skyline and marina of Lusail City. Pastel-colored towers rise out of the desert like boxes stacked on top of each other. Wide avenues give way to zigzag buildings, glass domes and clusters of neoclassical apartment buildings. It is not known if anyone lives in them. Most of them are advertised as luxury hotels, apartments or commercial office space. Cranes hang over many buildings.
Plans for Lusail had been underway since 2005, but construction accelerated after Qatar won the right to host the World Cup five years later. Supported by Qatar’s $450 billion Sovereign Fund.the city was designed to be compact and walkable, and is connected by the new Doha Metro and light rail.
Fahad Al-Jahamri, who manages projects at Qatari Diar, a real estate company behind the city and backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, called Lusail City an autonomous “extension of Doha.”
Officials also said the city is part of a broader plan for natural gas-rich Qatar to build its knowledge economy – bringing in the white-collar professionals the country hopes to attract to the city in the long run.
But reaching its goal of accommodating 400,000 people in the city of Lusail can be difficult in a country where only 300,000 people are citizens and many of the 2.9 million residents are poor migrants who live in camps rather than luxurious towers.
Even during the World Cup, Lusail is noticeably quieter than Doha, where a mind-boggling amount of construction has been built in preparation for the event over the past decade.
At Place Vendome, a luxury shopping center named after a large Parisian square, many shops are not yet open. On a recent afternoon, several tourists took pictures of the Lusail city skyline from a mall while the cashiers were talking amongst themselves. The guard said that in the building in the city center, where the Ministry of Culture and other government offices are located, by 11 am, almost everyone had left.
“Even on the subway, if you ride on a day when there are no matches, there are five to ten people in addition to you,” Garcia said.
On the man-made island of Al Maha, a crowd of World Cup fans and locals lazed at a prestigious beach club, smoking hookah and swimming in the pool.
Timothy Burt-Riley directed workers to an art gallery that opened later that night. The director of the French gallery said that the city of Lusail, or at least the island of Al Maha, with its amusement park, high-end boutiques, restaurants and salons, will become a meeting place for locals.
“This is a completely artificial island,” Bert-Riley said, “it’s just crazy what they are capable of.”
He said Qatar could find a way to use the infrastructure it had built for the World Cup, including seven new football stadiums, but acknowledged that “it could take time.”
Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.