Capitalising on Casablanca

The Wessal Casa Port in Casablanca is a key part of a broader and far more ambitious initiative to revitalise one of Africa’s leading financial hubs

Artist’s impression of the Museum of Sciences 

Wessal Capital, a joint venture consisting of several leading sovereign wealth funds, is an innovative investment fund and a major vehicle for private equity and integrated destination projects in Morocco. Born of the Moroccan state’s determination to support economic and social development, the venture is a product of the radical modernisation and reform programme that has emerged since His Majesty King Mohamed VI took to the throne in 1999.

For the last 15 years, Morocco has enjoyed a period of economic expansion and development, with the establishment of Wessal Capital key to realising the country’s strategic vision. As the largest investment fund in Africa, Wessal Capital is well positioned to contribute to Morocco’s remarkable progress by investing in structural projects, such as Wessal Casa Port, to revitalise and replenish the city of Casablanca, the country’s economic capital and the continent’s leading financial hub.

The Moroccan Fund for Tourism Development (FMDT), was established on November 11, 2011 by the Moroccan Government and supported by the Hassan II Fund for Economic and Social Development. FMDT forms part of the Vision 2020 strategic plan, which aims to transform Morocco into one of the world’s top 20 tourism destinations, able to accommodate 20 million tourists by 2020.

As a strategic fund, FMDT is an instrument to mobilise national and international tourism investment, and has amassed and committed $1.8bn worth of capital in the 10 years since its incorporation. By attracting investors and partners, structuring and executing investment transactions, and supporting and managing investments within its portfolio, the FMDT aims to consolidate the financing of the Moroccan tourism sector.

The project reaffirms Casablanca’s status as a world-class metropolis with a strong economy and diverse cultural opportunities

An ambitious project
FMDT is the sponsor of the joint venture. Wessal Capital, which was established in 2011 to finance transformational tourism, create destinations and contribute to the infrastructure development in Morocco. This ambitious project represents a unique shareholding structure with five sovereign wealth funds committing an equal amount of capital: the Kingdom of Morocco through the FMDT, the United Arab Emirates through Aabar, the State of Kuwait through Al Ajial, the State of Qatar through Qatar Holding, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through its Public Investment Fund (PIF). In total, Wessal Capital has $3.3bn in shareholders’ equity commitments, making it the largest investment fund in Africa.

Wessal Capital invests in projects that promise to enhance Morocco’s socio-economic environment and improve the lives of residents, while attracting international business and tourists. Projects are selected on the basis of potential financial return, as well as social and environmental responsibility and cultural relevance.

The venture’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) strategic approach, in line with Mohamed VI’s vision, allows sophisticated international investors to invest in a private equity style vehicle, which has a clear investment strategy and high levels of governance and transparency. The support of financial institutions, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank shows what high levels of interest have been invested in this project.
With seven million inhabitants, according to one 2012 estimate, Casablanca accounts for 32 percent of the country’s production units, 56 percent of industrial jobs, and is responsible for up to 44 percent of Morocco’s industrial production. It is also home to almost all of the headquarters for the country’s key economic organisations and institutions. Crucially, Casablanca’s boom first started with the creation of its port, which still ranks as one of the largest artificial ports in the world, and the primary naval base for the Royal Moroccan Navy.

Artist’s impression of Wessal Casa Port by night
Artist’s impression of Wessal Casa Port by night

World-class infrastructure
On April 1, 2014, Wessal Capital announced its first investment project, the Wessal Casablanca Port, which is set to cover a land surface area of 12 hectares and to, more importantly, regenerate the harbour area and the historic old town Medina of Casablanca. By way of a PPP, the project is set for completion in five years time for a total cost of $700m.

The Wessal Casablanca Port project will offer world-class tourism infrastructure and will see the establishment of the first marina in the city, with a capacity of 200 moorings and a comprehensive cruise ship terminal. It will feature a beautiful promenade, a modern yet architecturally authentic residential complex and a range of leisure facilities, offering Casablanca residents, tourists and maritime visitors prime economic, social and cultural spaces in the immediate vicinity of Casablanca’s major historic draws. The surrounding area will include offices and commercial space, leisure areas, retail and shopping, public and green spaces, hotels, a science city and a science library, as well as a cultural district, home to a museum and a theatre; two destinations that offer an unparalleled meeting space for creation and knowledge sharing.

The project will also include the relocation of the current fishing vessels and fishing channels to a more fitting space in order to create a better working environment for the local fishermen, while also preserving all historical traces and monuments associated with the area.

The port aims to create better connections between the port and the historic Medina, a key cultural and social heritage site in Casablanca. A 1km grid will be built between the two sites, a pedestrian esplanade offering visitors easy access to Medina, and a social bridge to facilitate travel between the two. The completed grid should succeed in merging tradition and modernity by calling for cultural and social fusion.

In accordance with royal guidelines, the $40m spent will be invested to develop Medina’s infrastructure to improve quality of life and facilitate sustainable social development. The project reaffirms Casablanca’s status as a world-class metropolis with a strong economy and diverse cultural opportunities. All the renovation and new construction sites in the Casablanca Port area will be fully respectful of the immediate environment and architectural integrity of the old town, in effect preserving the appeal of the area and ensuring it remains authentic. The local and social dimensions of the project, for example the creation of public and green spaces, gives its inhabitants a greater sense of ownership and leaves a lasting sense of renewal, while also bringing economic capital.

The rehabilitation is also in keeping with an integrated strategy for Medina, matching the inhabitants’ legitimate expectations in cultural, socio-economic and urban matters and so improving living conditions, creating job opportunities, upgrading the city’s buildings and preserving its historical and cultural legacy.

Creating opportunity
Once completed, the Wessal Casablanca Port project aims to stand at the centre of a new urban area and serve the city and its outlying regions. This integrated development is anticipated to generate economic activity in Casablanca, inspired by Medina tradition, and strengthen the city’s position as a major business crossroads. More importantly, by enhancing the appeal of Medina and the coastline district, it will help reposition Casablanca as a major destination for cultural, business and cruise tourism.

The second integrated project of Wessal Capital will be developed in Rabat city, the capital of Morocco. The development is closely in keeping with the city’s ambition to be seen as the country’s cultural capital, an aim that can best be seen in its slogan: ‘Rabat, city of light, Moroccan capital of culture’. The project’s components will include hotels, a marina, residential housing, urban green spaces, a museum and the grand theatre designed by architect Zaha Hadid, with a property base of 110 hectares. Rabat is beginning to be seen as a key cultural destination, which is why there is great interest in developing a variety of theatres and museums within the project. Indeed, Wessal Capital’s main objective is to invest in integrated projects with a significant cultural and social impact giving the local population a better social environment.

The projects in which Wessal Capital is involved have a widespread cultural reach and promise to leave a lasting social impact, bringing with them economic stimulus and creating real employment opportunities in a range of sectors.

As is the case with all other major projects launched by Mohammed VI, the Wessal Casablanca Port project takes into account a range of social and economic considerations, and through all project phases, special attention will be given to respecting social responsibility. An improved quality of life, greater economic opportunities and a more diverse cultural perspective in Casablanca goes hand-in-hand with Morocco’s vision of sustainable human development for all, and Wessal Capital continues to play an influential part in ensuring this is so.