A DEAL has been signed that paves the way for work to start on what has been described as a "miniature Disneyland" in Bahrain. The BD24 million project that will see the overhaul of the Grand Muharraq Garden is finally underway - more than two years after councillors scrapped it.
It will be carried out by Bahraini investor Fouad Shuwaitar, who outbid Kuwait-based Salah Al Rumaih to build a spectacular theme park featuring a variety of rides, landscaping and the country's longest walkway at 1,550 metres.
Councillors have been rallying behind the project, which has been overrun by stray dogs since plans to pump BD19m into the park were abandoned in April 2010 after the Kuwaiti investor missed three deadlines to start work.
The Royal Court has also agreed to study renaming the park after His Majesty King Hamad as the "Grand Hamad Park" because it is the first government facility that visitors to the country would come across after leaving Bahrain International Airport, in line with a proposal issued by councillors last month.
According to the original plans, the design would also feature the biggest bowling alley in the Middle East with 45 lanes, which would be equipped to host international championships.
Other facilities will include a medical centre, restaurants and coffee shops, a hotel with a multipurpose hall and a three-storey car park with a hydraulic elevator for vehicles.
Plans also consist of a miniature train to transport guests around the park and 14 buses to ferry visitors to the park from Saudi Arabia. The park will also have its own ambulance and helicopter on standby, in case of emergencies.
However, councillors scratched a part of the plans, replacing furnished apartments (motels) with two health clubs for men and women.
"The place will be turned into an extravagant theme park, a miniature Disneyland, with new rides, a bowling centre, hi-tech video games, international chain restaurants and now two health clubs to replace the motels - one for men and the other for women," council chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed said.
"We have scrapped the motels plans because of opposition from residents that it would deprive them from using the garden making it customers' only or if opened for all it will allow mix-up with foreigners practising more than their freedom in front of their children, in disregard to conservatism.
"We don't think that the BD24m is realistic, even with the motels plan scrapped. If that's what the investor wants to spend then let it be because we just want the park open again."
The investor would operate the park for 25 years, but after his contract ends councillors could extend it, give the project to another investor or run it themselves.
The council last year directed the Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Ministry to use the BD180,000 deposit of the Kuwaiti to equip the garden with family rest areas, playground equipment and a walkway, but work never went ahead.