Despite being hobbled by sanctions, Iran is in the midst of a shopping mall boom. Several modern shopping malls, some of them just catering for luxury brands, have opened in the capital, Tehran, in the past few years. Several more are currently under construction — with the biggest concentration being in the city’s well-heeled, tree-lined northern neighborhoods.
Yet none of those in the capital can match the size and ambition of the Isfahan City Centre shopping mall on the outskirts of Iran's fabled historic city and former capital.
The man who built it, Masoud Sarrami, says it is the largest shopping mall in the Middle East after the Dubai Mall, in the United Arab Emirates. It contains a university, a museum, an indoor theme park and a wedding centre, with which Sarrami hopes to combat divorce rates in Iran. When completed in 2016, Sarrami expects Isfahan City Centre will also be surrounded by a five-star hotel, a healthcare “city” and a financial district.
According to Sarrami, the total cost of the entire project has been $1 billion — most of it his own money, the remainder split between an investor in the emirate of Ras al-Khaymah and an investor based in Switzerland. Bloomberg is not able to verify Sarrami’s personal finances and he did not disclose the full accounts of his company, Prestige Land Iran Co.
The mall-builder says he would also like to team-up with foreign business figures as and when Western sanctions are relaxed. He seems particularly keen to work with a very high-profile hotel magnate in the U.S. — one who may raise more than just his eyebrows at the suggestion of working with an Iranian company. A spokeswoman for the 2016 presidential campaign of perhaps the most famous American hotel developer, Donald Trump, declined to comment for this story.
Bloomberg took a look at Isfahan City Centre on a recent trip — by evening it was packed with shoppers and a line of cars, four lanes thick, stretched well into the expressway, lining up to get a parking space.