MONTE CARLO (BLOOMBERG) - First-time visitors to the Monte Carlo Casino for next weekend's Grand Prix may not find the view they're expecting.
In the place of sea vistas are screens shielding the coast; in the water, dredgers are strategically placed, like warships.
"Monaco's yachts don't look as glamorous these days," one visitor jokes.
The construction is the first step toward creating new, ritzy Riviera housing on land that is currently underwater.
Since 2016, the principality's government has been pouring thousands of tons of Sicilian sand into the shallow harbor at a cost of US$2.4 billion (S$3.2 billion).
By 2025, the 15-acre (6-hectare) neighbourhood, called Anse du Portier (or Portier Cove), will increase the principality's size by 3 per cent and feature 120 luxury apartments, 10 over-the-top villas, a seaside promenade extending to Monte-Carlo Beach, and a Portofino-inspired port dreamed up by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano-all on Monaco's last remaining sliver of untouched shore.
It's part of a plan to rescue the tax haven from its housing shortage, which has helped the city-state claim the world's most expensive residential real estate.
The development follows a similar land reclamation effort in the 1970s, when Prince Rainier III built the industrial Fontvieille neighborhood on nearly 10 acres that contained only Mediterranean water.
Unlike such capitals as Paris or New York-which continue expanding, up or out-Monaco refuses to tear down old buildings to make space for a slew of taller, newer ones. It can expand in only one way: over the water.
A SMART, SEASIDE NEIGHBOURHOOD
According to Jean-Luc Nguyen, director of the government's offshore expansion project, the goal of Portier Cove is to "provide top luxury residences for people who want to settle in Monaco," since most of the principality's housing stock is aesthetically stuck in the 1970s.
The deep-pocketed companies and residents who reap the rewards of the tax haven are also the primary benefactors for the local economy, and they are critical to Monaco's continued growth.
The new neighbourhood will help lure billionaires with a handful of state-of-the-art amenities (sea-powered heating, solar-powered electric) plus expansive, seaside views.
The villas - which stretch up to 16,000 square feet (1,486 square metres) - are priced 30 per cent higher than Monaco's average homes, which are estimated at around US$5,600 per square foot.
But Nguyen cautions that bidding wars are likely to drive the final price tags to "whatever the customer is ready to pay for."
For some, the project has a reverse Robin Hood effect, stealing land from the sea in a style similar to Dubai's "The World."
The 300-island archipelago targeted an elite group of rich and famous, such as Brad Pitt and Richard Branson, but ultimately flopped-digging up debts of US$60 billion.
Monaco's government argues that this project is less about becoming a superlative city like Dubai, with the "tallest" and "most expensive" architecture, and more about the prince's plan of transitioning Monaco into a carbon-neutral country by 2050.
The district will follow a pedestrian-only design, with such sustainable features as e-bike stations and rainwater recovery systems.
Forty per cent of the energy consumption will derive from photovoltaic solar energy panels and thermal pumps, which will use the temperature of the sea to control heating and cooling systems, as well as power 80 per cent of the street lighting.
DO NOT DISTURB
The past two years of work have all happened underwater as engineers laid the foundation for Portier Cove.
But according to Philippe Jan, director of Bouygues Travaux Publics, the construction company managing the project, onlookers will soon start seeing the "emerged part of the iceberg" as 10,000-ton concrete slabs get towed in from Marseille and set into place.
The construction echoes around the tiny town, though, so Jan and his team will put the project on pause during the bustling summer season.
It's not just that the construction-covered sea view is an issue for visitors. Volume is of greater concern.
The Fairmont Monte Carlo, overlooking the Grand Prix's famous hairpins, has even added noise-monitoring sensors to its rooms in response to guest complaints.
"There are a lot of tourists and a lot of people living here who do not wish to be disturbed," Jan says. "But they have to understand that this neighbourhood may bring new life into the area, and in the end, it may not be a drawback."
The new area will offer a more intimate alternative to Port Hercule's flashier restaurants and bars, which have DJs spinning until dawn during the busy summer months.
Current plans have Portier Cove's smaller harbor looking more like French coastal resort town Cassis than party-heavy Cannes, with an amphitheater looking out to sea, a new public park, and paths winding through Mediterranean-inspired greenery.
For now, it's orange-barrel season in Monaco, and not just on the Portier Cove coastline.
Construction has also overtaken Casino Square, where a new crop of luxury shops and even more luxurious apartment buildings is underway.
The 150-year-old Hôtel de Paris is in the middle of an extensive, four-year renovation.
It'll wrap in September with a new facade and a new plaza modelled after Paris's Place Vendome, complete with the expensive jewellery shops. Nearby, the Sporting d'Hiver mixed-used development is adding a pedestrian walkway, public art gallery, shops, and residences.
"Monaco is always booming; you can see by the number of cranes in the city," Jan jokes.
But eyes are trained on Portier Cove. If all goes according to plan, the district will generate housing revenues of about US$4.1 billion.
"Right now, we are reaching a sensitive point as to how much construction people can stand in the principality," Nguyen explained, "but the new Portier Cove district will benefit everyone in Monaco."