But with football’s biggest event underway, the empty futuristic city is raising questions about how much use will be made of Qatar’s infrastructure built for the event after more than a million football fans flocked to the small Gulf Arab nation after the tournament have left.
Elias Garcia, a 50-year-old business owner from San Francisco, was visiting Lusail City from Doha with a friend on a day when the city’s bowl-shaped, golden stadium was not hosting a soccer game.
“We came to see it, but there’s not much here,” Garcia said, looking up at a huge crescent-shaped skyscraper behind him that was meant to resemble the curved swords on Qatar’s national emblem.
Across the street, a construction site was obscured by a low fence illustrated with desert scenes. “Everything looks like it’s under construction,” Garcia said. “It’s just empty lots with little walls they put up to make you think it’s operational.”
Driving north from Doha, it’s hard to miss the glittering skyline and marina of Lusail City. Pastel-colored towers loom out of the desert, looking like boxes stacked on top of each other. Broad avenues give way to zigzagging buildings, glass domes and clusters of neoclassical apartment blocks. It is unclear if anyone lives in it. Most are advertised as luxury hotels, apartments or commercial office space. Cranes hang over many buildings.
Plans for Lusail City had been in the air since 2005, but construction accelerated after Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup five years later. Backed by Qatar’s US$450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the city was designed to be compact and pedestrian-friendly. It is connected by the new Doha Metro and a light rail system.
Fahad Al Jahamri, who manages projects at Qatari Diar, the real estate company behind the city backed by the Qatari Investment Authority, has described Lusail City as an “extension of Doha” in its own right.
Officials have also said the city is part of broader plans gas-rich Qatar has to build its knowledge economy – an admission of the kind of employees the country hopes to attract to the city in the long term.
But the goal of housing 400,000 people in Lusail City could be difficult in a country where only 300,000 people are citizens and many of the 2.9 million residents are poor migrants living in camps rather than luxury towers.
Even during the World Cup, Lusail City is noticeably quieter than Doha, itself the scene of stunning construction work over the past decade in preparation for the event.
Many shops are not yet open at Place Vendome, a luxury shopping mall named after the large Parisian square. A few tourists snapped photos of the Lusail City skyline from the mall one afternoon while cashiers chatted. At a downtown building housing the Culture Ministry and other government offices, a security guard said almost everyone left by 11 a.m
“Even on the subway, if you’re riding on a day where there’s no game, there’s five to 10 people there besides you,” Garcia said.
On the man-made island of Al Maha, a crowd of World Cup fans and locals sat at an upscale beach club, hitch hookahs and dived into a swimming pool.
Timothe Burt-Riley was directing workers at an art gallery that opened later that night. The French gallery director said Lusail City — or at least Al Maha Island, with its amusement park, high-end boutiques, restaurants and lounges — is a place where locals meet.
“This is an entirely man-made island,” Burt-Riley said, “it’s pretty crazy what they can do.”
He said Qatar could find a way to use the infrastructure it has built for the World Cup, including seven new football stadiums, but acknowledged “it could take time”.