This week, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a massive entertainment complex in Riyadh ... and a former Disney executive is working behind the scenes on its development.

The 100,000 square-meter project will be developed by the Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (SEVEN,) which was established by the Public Investment Fund in Dec. 2017. SEVEN received initial funding of 10 billion riyals ($2.67 billion) and named Bill Ernest - a former Disney executive - as its CEO.

Ernest has worked in the entertainment sector for over 25 years, serving as president and managing director of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in Asia. His role included overseeing several of the company's parks and resorts including Hong Kong Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland with the Oriental Land Company, and Shanghai Disney Resort.

The entertainment complex comes as part of the kingdom's efforts to boost the leisure sector. 

Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Dawoud, the company chairman, said the project will be "the first of its kind." It will also include plenty of open spaces and will be equipped for sports activities, entertainment, and live shows.

"We aim to make the area a go-to entertainment destination in which families can have picnics, enjoy the arts, relax and get some exercise and fresh air," he said, according to Arab News.

SEVEN aims to build about 20 entertainment centers in the kingdom in upcoming years. The Public Investment Fund said the company's projects "would attract more than 50 million visitors a year."

With that, more than 22,000 jobs would be created, in hopes to decrease unemployment rates in the kingdom.

SEVEN has already opened up the kingdom's first cinema in nearly four decades, a move that took the world by storm in 2018.

Saudi Arabia's entertainment sector has come a long way in recent years

Towards the end of 2018, the kingdom hosted the Formula E Championship race - dubbed Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix - which saw electric vehicles compete in a tournament. 

The race did more than just promote electric cars and cutting-edge technologies. Over the course of three days, massive concerts saw thousands of men and women get together and embrace the dance-floor. 

The kingdom also hosted a mixed-gender concert, performed by Egyptian singer Nihad Fathy, making her the first female singer to perform before men and women earlier that year.

In Sept. 2018, Saudi Arabia announced it will begin offering electronic visas for foreign visitors who wish to attend sporting events and concerts. The announcement came just ahead of the sports tournament. According to Al Arabiya, about 1,000 foreigners from 80 countries received the new "sharek" visa.

Prior to the implementation of the new system, there was no category that allowed expats to enter the kingdom for "entertainment" purposes. The majority of expats enter the country on a work, business, or residency visa. Muslim expats are given special visas to perform the annual pilgrimage, otherwise known as Hajj, and Umrah, the non-mandatory Islamic pilgrimage.