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The city built for the Qatar World Cup

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LUSAIL, Qatar (AP) — Less than a month before the World Cup Final is due to be hosted, the city of Lusail was eerily quiet.

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Wide, empty streets, idle lobbies and construction cranes are everywhere in the elegant neighborhood 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital, Doha, which was built to accommodate World Cup fans and the hundreds of thousands of residents of host nation Qatar.

But as soccer’s biggest event kicks off, the empty futuristic city raises questions about how much of the infrastructure Qatar built for the event will benefit after more than a million soccer fans left the small Gulf state after the tournament.

Elias Garcia, a 50-year-old business owner from San Francisco, visited Lusail City from Doha with a friend on a day when there was no football match at the city’s Golden Stadium.

“We came to check it out, but there’s not much here,” Garcia said, looking at the huge crescent-shaped skyscraper behind him designed to look like the curved swords on Qatar’s national emblem.

On the other side of the street, a construction site was hidden by a low hedge adorned with a desert landscape. “Everything seems to be under construction,” Garcia said. “They’re just empty spaces with little walls they put up to make you think they’re working.”

Driving north from Doha, it’s hard to miss Lusail City’s sparkling skyline and marina. Pastel-coloured towers that look like stacked boxes rise out of the desert. Wide avenues give way to winding buildings, glass domes, and neoclassical apartment block clusters. It is unclear if anyone lived there. Most of them are advertised as luxury hotels, apartments or commercial offices. Cranes hang over many buildings.

Plans for Lusail City had been around since 2005, but construction proceeded quickly after Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup five years later. With the support of Qatar’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the city is designed to be compact, pedestrian-friendly and connected by the new Doha Metro and light rail.

Fahad Al-Jahmari, who manages projects at Qatari Diar, the real estate company behind the city that is backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, has described Lusail City as an “independent extension of Doha”.

Officials also said the city is part of broader plans by which natural gas-rich Qatar must build out its knowledge economy — an admission of the kind of white-collar professionals the country hopes to attract to the city in the long run.

But reaching its goal of housing 400,000 people in Lusail City may prove difficult in a country with a population of just 300,000, and many of its 2.9 million residents are poor immigrants who live in camps rather than luxury towers.

Even during the World Cup, Lusail was noticeably quieter than Doha, which itself has been the site of astonishing amounts of construction over the past decade in preparation for the event.

At the Place Vendome, a luxury shopping center named after the grand Parisian square, many shops are yet to open. A few tourists snapped pictures of the Lusail city skyline one afternoon from the mall while the cashiers were chatting among themselves. In a building downtown that houses the Ministry of Culture and other government offices, a security guard said everyone had left by 11 a.m.

“Even on the metro, if you go on a day when there is no match, there are about five to ten people next to you,” said Garcia.

On the artificial island of Oryx, a crowd of World Cup fans and locals relax at an upscale beach club, hauling shisha tobacco pipes and dipping into the pool.

Timothe Burt-Riley takes out workers at an art gallery that opens later that night. The director of the French exhibition said that Lusail City – or at least the Oryx Island with its amusement parks, high-end shops, restaurants and lounges, will be a place where locals meet.

“This is a completely man-made island, what they can do is insane,” said Bert Riley.

He said Qatar could find a way to take advantage of the infrastructure it has built for the World Cup, including seven new soccer stadiums, but admitted, “It may take some time.”

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Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham

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