Monday, June 16, 2014

Free Trade Zone Kuwait - A ghost Town

I went to an event held in the Movenpick Hotel in the Free Trade Zone, I hadn't been to that place since Starbuck's was open. As I drove through the area I was shocked to see how the area had changed, it reminded me of those town that were suddenly abandoned and left to the elements.
Villa Moda in ruins...

 Some inventory left over, I remember when I first came to Kuwait, I was amazed at this place. Long gone are the Aston Martins that used to sit out front under the spotlights.
 Email Café
 Arabic restaurant I think
 Cento Café, I remember this place used to be crowded
 Abandoned cars in front of Al Mulla
 This is where Starbuck's was...I used to get my coffee there and look at the sea
Some of the places still have inventory inside
Ahhhhh yes....Degool, who can forget how hard it was to find parking on the weekends
 The little sheesha place where I saw my first transvestite...
For the people like myself who went there to chill out it was fun but I know for sure there was a lot of questionable  things going on in that area which is one of the reasons these places were shut down, shady people were using this area to hide out from the police.

On a side note - Harbor Café seems to be still open as there were cars out front.


  1. It's just another testament to how impotent government "planning" is.

    Tarek Sultan and his family's real estate company conceptualized the Free Trade Zone back in the 90's. They are a family of BUSINESS people with a vision. It was all set up; including the infrastructure, communications, roads - entire urban planning; and the rules and regulations were put in place for international BUSINESSES to come in and start working in a free trade environment.... (like other countries have - Dubai as a prime example).

    As evidenced by the buildings and shops that remain in the FTZ (and your very good photos!) it was, for a brief time (NOT long ago), a thriving BUSINESS community. I worked there for a while and went to some of the shops and cafes. Everybody did at some point. It is a lovely location and the whole area had a township/community feel to it.

    Then... along came greedy Government. Seeing an opportunity to take over ("do better") what had been started by others (with international BUSINESS degrees and generations of BUSINESS experience). International BUSINESS people could no longer easily get visas for their employees (it took up to 2 years just to obtain a final yes/no determination and by that time, the employees had moved on). The process was strife with red tape and (sigh) the usual Kuwait bureaucracy. The Sultans pulled out. The Government started new (weird) rules. No one in the international BUSINESS community could understand them - because they changed EVERY day. Then, it was revealed that retail BUSINESSES (like Villa Moda - which everyone loved) could no longer sell in the area. They started to pull out and Kuwaiti entrepreneurs and building owners lost enormous amounts of money. At the end, there were still semi-lenient rules for restaurants and cafes... until the Government changed those rules too and those BUSINESS people pulled out.

    Why am I stressing BUSINESS? Because Kuwait seems to be opposed to transacting any kind of real business. The (powers) make the rules and then break them. No one trusts the officials anymore (in terms of business regulation - or lack thereof). People would rather invest money outside Kuwait then to lose it because of stupid rules no one can understand or that change on a whim. How many Kuwaiti-owned BUSINESSES have moved to Dubai? LOTS. (Even the Sultans have a large share of the businesses in Dubai's FTZ because it is a true FTZ!)

    Coming back to your point about the FTZ as a ghost town; maybe this is just the beginning? Perhaps the FTZ is a case study for the rest of BUSINESS in Kuwait. Eventually, the market will become a ghost town if the authorities don't get their own house in order.

    How much revenue is the country losing?

  2. I went to the area for a graduation and I didn't see the whole place so I went back to see the full scene and it was so sad. As you said, it was a really nice area to go to where you felt like you kind of escaped the crowds and with the sea surrounding the area it was relaxing but alas if the govt isn't making money than NO ONE will and now you see the result. It was really surreal, like a ghost town. I had no idea and was thinking I would catch a bite to eat until I realized NOTHING was there so I was starving and burning up. Even Motorola was closed, I did see people going into the Viva building so there are some still going there.

    Movenpick is trying to hang on, it's a good place to go hide out lol I have a lot more pictures but I posted the ones I personally visited and have memories of. I remember a lot of American logistical companies out there back then as well. When I was taking pictures every once in a while an Egyptian haris would start heading toward me like I was trespassing or the fact that there was a white chick in the middle of no where lol So sad.

  3. My former office was located in the FTZ and gotta say... the logistics of maintaining that location were interesting.

    1. The buildings in the FTZ were all under a 'lease' agreement based on a certain number of years. I believe most were year to year, others were up to 10 years.

    2. Once the leases ended the businesses had to close.

    3. The businesses still operating under a current lease are still considered 'not licensed' (or something along those lines).

    4. No employment visas can be issued for employees working in the FTZ using their employer's location. For instance, we issued visas for employees using an address of a broom closet (yes, a broom closet!) in Sharq. Had the ministry ever done a physical inspection... well, you know.

    5. Several of our employee's visas had started expiring and we couldn't renew them or get new visas for new hires because our 'broom closet' was only allotted a certain number of visas and we had exceeded that.

    Of course there are a lot of details I was never privy to, though my signature had to go on every visa issued. I was always told, "We have wasta, it's OK". And though I understand a lot of business practices in Kuwait are shady, I'm not at all comfortable with being part of the corruption.

    Not really sure how the remaining business there are staying open unless they're still under that 'lease agreement'.

  4. I worked as a Sales Executive in Sultan Telecom and was responsible for new business generation in FTZ. It was thriving with activity with some really good companies setting up their business there. I went there a few weeks back and was shocked to witness the condition of the zone. Almost all the companies have either moved out, only few remain. Al Mulla HO is still there so is Move N Pick, Waves Business Center has completely closed (Opp to All Mulla). Action group holding has moved all their business to Waves now as it belonged to them.
    TNT, Saipem, KEO, KFH are still there. But the zone still looks like its being haunted.
    I remember the days when we used to work for long hours due to some projects there were literal traffic jams late in the night due to the crowd visiting the zone at the café.
    There was one Harley Davidson club which used to meet in email café :-)
    Sweet old memories !!!!


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