Flavio Briatore's Billionaire brand comes to Palladium
Flavio Briatore, the former Formula One boss, has entered into a partnership with a company based in Lebanon as part of the US$150 million (Dh550.9m) redevelopment of the Palladium building in Dubai.
Mr Briatore attracted controversy after he was forced to resign as the head of the Renault F1 team over an alleged plot to rig the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.
The Italian businessman has since franchised his "Billionaire" brand to the Pragma Group in Beirut, which plans to renovate the Palladium conference centre as a "lifestyle destination" with restaurants, a 55-room hotel, a club and a fitness centre.
The development in Dubai Media City will be rebranded as Billionaire Square, and include the Billionaire Club and Grill, a franchised version of Mr Briatore's Billionaire club in Sardinia.
"Flavio is a very influential worldwide personality," said Joe Tabet, the chairman of Pragma Group. "After his disengagement with F1, Flavio has more time to develop his brand … and expand his business in the Middle East."
Mr Tabet said Pragma had signed a "master franchising agreement" for the use of Mr Briatore's Billionaire brand in the UAE, which also included the "first right of refusal for the [wider] MENA region".
He said payment to Mr Briatore would be a "mixture of royalty fees and a percentage of turnover".
Pragma acquired the Palladium in June, buying out a group of investors that included Joseph Ghossoub, the advertising executive, and the Bank of Sharjah, Mr Tabet said.
That acquisition, plus the planned renovation of the building, is budgeted at about $150m, an increase on the initial budget of $100m. The cost will be met by "50 per cent equity and 50 per cent financing", said Mr Tabet.
Renovation work on the existing building, a small part of which will be demolished, begins next month and is forecast to last up to a year.
The hotel will be branded under an international franchise agreement or through a concept developed in-house.
"The hotel is a boutique-type hotel with around 40 rooms and 15 suites," said Mr Tabet. "We are exploring a couple of European brand names. We may also create the brand ourselves."
Billionaire Square will include up to 18 restaurant concepts, as well as The 400 Fitness Club.
"It's a holistic entertainment centre where you can spend 24 hours without the need to go out," Mr Tabet said. "As Flavio mentioned, it's like living the billionaire dream without being a billionaire."
Pragma's lifestyle division also operates the Cavalli Club at the Fairmont hotel in Dubai, through an agreement with the Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.
"Cavalli Club will remain at the Fairmont. We might implement a Cavalli Cafe inside the Billionaire Square," said Mr Tabet.
Pragma recently launched a "bohemian" chain called BoHouse Cafe at Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai, and plans to franchise out the concept across the region.
"We developed that brand from the beginning," Mr Tabet said. "The whole idea is to develop it to be a franchise concept in the MENA region.
"We have serious partners we are talking to in Bahrain, Qatar, Istanbul and Abu Dhabi. But these are initial talks."