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Empty streets, cranes: city built for the Qatar World Cup

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Less than a month before the World Cup finals are held, Lusail City is curiously quiet.

Wide empty streets, idle lobbies and construction cranes built to house World Cup fans and hundreds of thousands of residents of host country Qatar, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the capital Doha, are everywhere.

But with football’s biggest event yet to take place, the empty, futuristic city raises questions about how much of the infrastructure Qatar built will still be usable after more than a million football fans have left the tiny Gulf Arab country after the tournament.

Elias Garcia, a 50-year-old entrepreneur from San Francisco, visited the city of Lusail from Doha with a friend when the city’s bowl-shaped golden stadium was not having a football game.

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

Across the street, a construction site was hidden behind a low fence painted with desert scenes. “It looks like everything is under construction,” Garcia said. “It’s just this empty space with little walls that they’ve put up to make you think it’s active.”

Driving north from Doha, it’s hard to miss Lusail City’s glittering skyline and marina. Pastel-colored towers that look like stacked crates rise from the desert. Broad avenues give way to clusters of steep buildings, glass domes and neoclassical housing blocks. It is not clear if anyone lives in it. Most are advertised as luxury hotels, apartments or commercial office space. Cranes hang above several buildings.

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Plans for Lusail City date back to 2005, but construction was accelerated after Qatar won the rights to host the World Cup five years later. Backed by Qatar’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund, the city is designed to be compact and pedestrian-friendly and is connected to Doha’s new metro and a light rail.

Fahad Al Jahamri, who manages projects in Qatari Diyar, the real estate company behind the city backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, has called Lusail City a self-contained “extension of Doha”.

Officials have also said the city is part of broader plans for natural gas-rich Qatar to build its knowledge-based economy – ushering in the type of white-collar workers the country hopes to attract in the long run.

But reaching the goal of housing 400,000 people in Lusal City could prove difficult in a country where there are only 300,000 citizens and many of the 2.9 million residents are poor migrants living in camps, not luxury towers.

Even during the World Cup, Lusail City is much quieter than Doha, which has seen a huge amount of construction work in preparation for the event over the last decade.

On Place Vendôme, a luxury shopping center named after the large Parisian square, many shops are not yet open. Some tourists snapped photos of the Lusail City skyline from the mall on a recent afternoon as cashiers chatted with each other. At the Ministry of Culture building and other government offices downtown, a security guard said nearly everyone had left by 11 a.m.

“Even on the subway, if you go on a day when there’s no game, there’s five to 10 people next to you,” Garcia said.

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On the artificial island of Al Maha, a crowd of World Cup fans and locals sat at a luxury beach club, smoking shisha pipes and taking a dip in a swimming pool.

Timothy Burt-Riley sent workers to an art gallery that opened later that evening. The French gallery director said Lusail City – or at least Al Maha Island, with its theme park, luxury boutiques, restaurants and lounges – would be a place where locals would meet.

“It’s a completely man-made island,” said Burt-Riley, “it’s pretty crazy what they can do.”

He said Qatar could find a way to use the infrastructure built for the World Cup, including seven new football stadiums, but acknowledged that “it may take some time”.

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Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham

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AP World Cup coverage: and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Suman Naishadham, The Associated Press

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