An Atlanta real estate partnership has announced plans to build what could eventually amount to a $6.5 billion entertainment district anchored by a soccer stadium in the West African nation of Ghana.
Transatlantic BDR LLC leaders say they’ve procured an agreement with the local government for access to 16,000 coastal acres near the port city of Tema, just outside the capital of Accra, to progressively build a mammoth, phased mixed-use development.
They say it will position Ghana to attract more international events and visitors while bolstering the area’s road and power infrastructure for the good of Ghana’s logistics sector as well as its overall economy.
Designs for Point of Return Ghana, as the development is called, call for a convention center, a 60,000-seat, FIFA-compliant soccer stadium (20,000 more seats than the current national stadium), hotels and much more. Boosters say the area will have 6G wireless connectivity, light rail infrastructure and renewable energy generation capacity.
A futuristic rendering of the project attributed to international architectural firm HOK shows buildings blending into abundant green space flanked by a natural lagoon that doubles as a water feature. Organizers told Global Atlanta there is even talk of creating a bird sanctuary.
Ghana, rich in cocoa, gold and oil, has been praised as an island of democratic stability in a turbulent region. But government coffers have been hit hard by declining oil and commodity prices over the last two years. The country is in the midst of a nearly $1 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund to stabilize its sliding currency, the cedi, which has been pummeled by flagging exports.
Transatlantic BDR’s leaders are undeterred, saying their project is different from others that go hat-in-hand to resource-rich African governments and ask them to underwrite the expenses.
They plan to leverage the Tema government’s support (a land lease outlined in a memorandum they would not disclose) into private investment, then build in phases that generate revenue individually, helping finance subsequent aspects of the ambitious plan.
“People go in and say to foreign governments, ‘I’m happy to build whatever you need, and this is the price.’ Nobody goes in and tells the governments how to create a sustainable growth plan to commercialize” their assets, said Kevin Wynne, TBDR’s director of commercial operations. “That was our pitch to the Ghanaian government: ‘Let us come in and build over a long period of time a tourism and cultural center that will help drive tourism, economic growth, create jobs.’”
Mr. Wynne, a former executive for Madison Square Garden and IMG Boxing, believes in the transformative power of sports to put a destination on the map. He says that Ghana could be catapulted into a new echelon of global host cities. Gospel concerts, rugby competitions, boxing and much more would be drawn to Ghana as a regional hub if this development were to take off.
“Ghana has demand for these stadiums now,” Mr. Wynne said. “They just haven’t had the right vision to create the financing apparatus where it was justifiable for the government to put that kind of money into those facilities.”
And the stadium is just one aspect of the overall plan that will could unfold over the next decade, said Charles Aiken, a partner in Transatlantic BDR who is listed on the company’s website by his Muslim name, C. Hakim Shahid.
The first phase, he said, will most likely be a power plant that can initially be used to supplement Ghana’s spotty grid before eventually fueling the new “smart city.” That will provide the initial income to help sustain later stages and attract investors.
“In terms of demand, it’s more than there,” said Mr. Aiken.
But he and others conceded that the vision could change over time with more feedback from the government and evaluation of market conditions.
“This isn’t just constructing a couple of buildings. This is really urban planning a city within a city. There’s a lot of thought that has to go into that,” Mr. Wynne said.
Tema’s government could not be reached, but a news release published by TBDR included a statement from the metropolitan area’s chief executive welcoming the ambitious project.
There is some uncertainty surrounding followthrough on the project. Some Africa experts have pointed to a raft of white-elephant projects across the continent as urban planners have sought flashy showpieces to woo investors. The $10 billion Hope City project, a proposed Ghana tech hub launched with great fanfare by President John Dramani Mahama in 2013, still hasn’t broken ground.
Contacted by Global Atlanta via email, Ghanaian Minister for Trade and Industry Ekwow Spigo-Garbrah said he had not heard of the Tema soccer stadium project.
Matilda Arhin, head of the Ghana International Chamber of Commerce in Atlanta, is heading up government relations for TBDR . She has helped bring high-ranking officials from Ghana to Atlanta, including the ambassador to the U.S., Joseph Henry Smith, who praised her work during his last visit, and Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Kofi-Armah Buah.
She told Global Atlanta she could not share the memorandum of understanding signed with the Tema government, but she confirmed her participation in the project.
Mr. Aiken and Mr. Wynne said the team they have assembled is full of international expertise. They have tapped former BP PLC executive Uduak Udofia as its chief executive and point to an affiliation with Matrix 3D LLC, a minority-owned design and construction firm that has been involved with various construction projects around Atlanta, working for Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta international Airport, Georgia State University and other major institutions.
For his part, Mr. Aiken has a questionable history in economic development. He plead guilty in federal court to financial fraud in 2007 and was later the target of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint for failing to disclose the previous indictment in a subsequent bond-raising deal.
He told Global Atlanta that his past wouldn’t affect the project’s future.
“This project is not about me. This project is about Ghana, and that’s where we’re going to keep it. We’ve brought in professionals. We’ve brought in the best and allowing them to lead it in that way.”
The company, established five years ago to explore Ghanian opportunities, is still figuring out its financial model for the mega-project. Ideas include tapping international development finance groups like USAID and OPIC, as well as reaching out to private investors from the U.S., Africa and Asia.
“We don’t want to start from the ground up and learn as we go; we want to create a company that has shared best practices among different disciplines and then go in and take on projects,” Mr. Aiken said. “Our model is self-sustaining economic development and sustainability. In order to do that, you have to have the best.”