(Bloomberg) --

Saudi Arabia is working with Lazard Ltd. as it considers how it will pay for Neom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious $500 billion plan for a high-tech desert city, people familiar with the matter said. 

The New York-based investment bank is helping the kingdom evaluate financing options, including debt sales and a potential initial public offering on the Saudi stock exchange, according to the people. 

Deliberations are in the early stages and no firm decisions about the size or structure of any financing have been taken, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information. A spokesperson for Lazard declined to comment, while a representative for Neom didn’t respond to request for comment.

The advisory mandate puts Lazard in a prime position to land future work related to Neom, which is considered by many to be one of the most complex construction undertakings in the world. Announced in 2017, the urban megaproject envisions a high-tech metropolis in a desert expanse the size of Belgium that’ll include everything from ski resorts to canals filled with swimmable water -- creating a novel aquatic commuting option.

The first phase of Neom, which runs until 2030, will cost 1.2 trillion riyals ($319 billion), with about half of that figure covered by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Prince Mohammed said in July. The kingdom has set aside 300 billion riyals for an investment fund tied to Neom and plans an IPO of the project as soon as 2024. 

Lazard has picked up some of the most high-profile investment banking mandates to come out of Saudi Arabia in recent years, including a role as financial adviser on the $30 billion IPO of oil giant Aramco. It’s currently working on the potential listing of Aramco’s trading arm, one of the most anticipated share sales this year, the people said. 

Lazard is one of a number of advisory specialists building its on-the-ground presence in Saudi Arabia in anticipation of more lucrative work. In September, it appointed Riyadh-based Sarah Al-Suhaimi as chair of its financial advisory business in the Middle East and North Africa. This followed the hiring of Saudi national Wassim Al Khatib, a former Citigroup Inc. banker who played a key role on Aramco’s IPO.

--With assistance from Fahad Abuljadayel and Matthew Martin.

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