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With government relocated, Egypt set to unveil overhaul of downtown Cairo

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Egypt's sovereign wealth fund is finalising a masterplan to revamp Cairo's historic centre now that government ministries have largely moved to a new capital to the east, and hopes to break ground on the project within months, its chief executive said.

People shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo, Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Egypt's sovereign wealth fund is finalising a masterplan to revamp Cairo's historic centre now that government ministries have largely moved to a new capital to the east, and hopes to break ground on the project within months, its chief executive said.

The area, modelled on Paris in the 1860s, is filled with elegant but crumbling buildings constructed over the subsequent seven decades. Many were nationalised in the 1950s and 1960s and left in disrepair.

The Sovereign Fund has already taken control of three prime properties in central Cairo, and received ownership of 11 former ministry buildings in a decree published this week in the official gazette.

It is also overseeing the real estate portfolio of Misr Insurance Holding, which includes nearly a hundred buildings, most built before World War Two.

The blueprint includes the government quarter on the southern edge of downtown and involves traffic plans, area surveys and plans to repurpose various buildings, the fund's CEO, Ayman Soliman, told Reuters. The fund will bring in private companies to own and finance much of the properties.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and two international advisers are helping to draw it up.

"It's coming over the course of the coming weeks," Soliman said.

FROM OLD CAPITAL TO NEW

Much of the government has transferred in recent months to ministries and offices in a lavish new capital being built 45 km (28 miles) east of Cairo.

The fund expects to take over many former government buildings to either sell, manage on behalf of the government or turn over to private developers in exchange for a minority ownership stake in the projects.

"Some of the buildings are already evacuated, but there is a mobilisation plan for relocating into concentrated locations for whoever is staying and not moving to the new capital," Soliman said.

The plan will discourage some activities, such as warehousing and storage, while encouraging others, such as tourism.

It provides for preservation of architectural styles through a permitting system, weekend pedestrian zones and the creation of parking garages in place of uglier buildings.

Work on the ground would begin "probably within the first half of this year," Soliman said.

"We're getting done with the paperwork and from then on you'll be seeing boots on the ground."

VACATED PROPERTIES

The three vacated properties the fund has received are Tahrir Square's colossal Mogamma building - formerly a notoriously dysfunctional one-stop bureaucratic shop - the interior ministry compound and a now-vacant Nile-side lot once occupied by the headquarters of former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

The NDP building was burned during Egypt's 2011 uprising, then demolished.

All three will be repurposed for multiple uses including offices, apartments, leisure and hospitality, with external work now following internal work at the Mogamma site.

A proposal on the NDP land will be announced once permits are secured. Soliman did not rule out reports that a soaring skyscraper could be constructed.

The sprawling former interior ministry compound, which has good power and digital wiring, is being turned into a business park catering to start-ups and tourism. It would include a three-star Moxy hotel by Marriott, the first in Egypt, Soliman said.

Reporting by Patrick Werr

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