Emirates investor starts construction of contested Belgrade tower

BELGRADE, April 15 (Reuters) - An Abu Dhabi developer began building a 160-metre-high riverside tower in Belgrade on Friday that will be the centrepiece of an estimated $3 billion dollar residential, office and tourism complex that has drawn criticism from some city residents.

The Belgrade Waterfront complex on the Sava river marks the first foray into central and eastern Europe by Abu Dhabi developer Eagle Hills and Dubai real estate tycoon Mohamed Alabbar.

Work to clear two million square metres of former industrial land in order to make way for hotels, office buildings and apartments for 14,000 people began last September.

Critics, however, said the project is an expensive gamble that takes no account of the character of Belgrade’s historic centre. Several local organisations have repeatedly rallied to protest the deal.

“This was tailored to fit the investor and Belgrade was not taken into consideration at all ... it is being done without public insight, no one really knows what’s happening there,” Djordje Bobic, a former city architect, told Reuters.

The scheme is a cherished project of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic who visited the site with Alabbar on Friday to formally launch construction on the futuristic glass tower, which will be one of the tallest buildings in the former Yugoslavia.

“The Belgrade Tower will become a symbol of success and progress of Belgrade and the whole of Serbia,” Vucic said, adding that the project will create jobs.

“That’s going to be the best view in the Balkans.”

The ceremony was part of a flurry of factory and other project launches before April 24 elections in which Vucic hopes to cement his grip on power to complete economic reforms and bring the country closer to membership of the European Union.

Under the agreement, Serbia must pay for all infrastructure work to link the site to the rest of the city at a cost of around 300 million euros.

Alabbar is also chairman of Dubai’s Emaar Properties , which announced plans this week to build a new tower in the emirate to surpass the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building.

1 euro = $1.1263 Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Adrian Croft and Pritha Sarkar