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Saudi developer Raza plans projects for a more open society

Marwa Rashad

RIYADH, May 2 (Reuters) - State-owned Saudi property developer Raza is planning more mixed-use projects that could combine offices, homes and leisure facilities in the latest sign of the conservative Islamic kingdom experimenting with a more open society.

Under plans to transform Saudi Arabia's economy and society, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sanctioned movies, music and sports once deemed un-Islamic to try to appeal to the country's overwhelmingly young population.

Strict social rules have also been relaxed, especially in the capital Riyadh, after the crown prince clipped the wings of the religious police which for decades had punished people for playing music in public, dressing immodestly or mixing with members of the opposite sex.

Raza Chief Executive Waleed Aleisa said a "critical catalyst" for the firm's new plans was the change in lifestyle for Saudi citizens and residents.

"There is a gap in the market for this concept: place-making and mixed-use developments," he said during an interview.

"This is a young Saudi generation, and women are increasingly accessing the job market, so demand is changing and now people expect to do everything at the same place. So we provide the retail, shopping, schools, clinics and entertainment in the same area."

Raza, the real estate arm of the Public Pension Agency (PPA), currently manages 2 million square meters of office, mixed-use and community developments in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

It aims to double assets under management to 26 billion riyals ($6.9 billion) by 2024, Aleisa told Reuters.

As well as property development, Raza will also offer asset management, property management and commercial services under its new strategy.

It currently manages only PPA assets, but plans to take on assets of third-party investors such as banks, and real estate investment trusts (REITs), Aleisa said.

"This shift is widely expected to attract a fresh wave of investments and also opportunities for partnerships," he said.

Raza's mid-to-high end properties in Riyadh include the Diplomatic Quarter and the Digital City. (Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Mark Potter)