Breathing new life into Downtown Jerusalem

New Downtown Jerusalem plan Photo: Cobb Freed & Partners

A major 14,000 square meter plan to transform the area near Davidka Square faces objections from local residents.

Adv. Arieh Noach believes that development of the 14,000 square meter area of land bequeathed by the late billionaire Albert Benin can revive the flagging fortunes of downtown Jerusalem. Adv. Noach has been toiling for years to promote the project, which was recently approved and filed for objections. He believes with all his heart that the excellent architecture of the plan will breathe new life into the area immediately west of the Jaffa Road - King George St. intersection, which currently "feels like a cemetery." The land lies between Jaffa Road and Hanevi'im Street just east of the Davidka Square.

Many objections are now expected to this ambitious project on land that has been abandoned for decades. The new plan has been designed by a team of architects led by US architect Ian Bader, a partner at the New York based firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, which was also responsible for the glass pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris and closer to home the First International Bank tower in Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard.

The plan itself comprises three 30-floor towers with mixed-use space for apartments, hotels, offices and stores as well as preserving the old buildings on the site. At the heart of the project will be open public space, designed to provide a tranquil respite from the urban environment.

"The land has been untouched for years and the city has suffered"

Jerusalem architect David Kroyanker, the number one expert on the city's architectural and planning history, recounts that the land was bought at the end of the 19th century by the Valiro and Benin families. They refused to sell the land and were not prepared to move forward with development plans. Kroyanker said, "The land has remained in the most terrible state for decades. The first plan filed for the land was back in the 1930s by the architect Richard Kaufmann (who designed Nahalal and Afula). Nothing happened with the plan."

"Mr. Benin, who was extremely rich, turned down every plan that the municipality proposed. He always wanted something more. Every few years, he would employ an architect who would add rights to the previous plan. He received large rights for the time but was never satisfied with what he got. The late Adv. Yigal Arnon told me jokingly once that it was good for him because it was never ending. Three brothers argued over the land. As the years went by the land was divided up between more and more heirs. The city suffered from the fact that nothing was happening."

Adv. Noach is ostensibly responsible for the legal aspects of the project but when talking to him the extent of his deep involvement in promoting the project becomes apparent.

"I've ploughed over this plot thousands of times. Some of the architectural ideas are mine. I'm precisely aware of every millimeter and every topographical point. I think that we have finally put together a very good plan."

It is very important for him to make clear that the money that the money that will be obtained from selling the rights will be donated in its entirety for the benefit of the public.

"All the money was bequeathed to the public. He did not leave a single shekel to anyone. The money is being divided up by Shaare Zedek hospital, the Hebrew University's School of Computer Engineering and kindergartens. The money from selling the rights will go into a fund for student scholarships."

"This piece of land is the largest in the center of the city. One of the problems in Jerusalem is that ownership of land in the center of the city is divided up between too many owners. The result is that there is a real difficulty in pushing plans through. If you walk down Jaffa Road, you'll see empty and abandoned houses in the main street of central Jerusalem. It's an impossible situation. Here there happened to be a large lot (12,000 square meters) owned by one body and in the hands of a bequeathal on behalf of the public. That has made it possible to push through a plan that on the one hand is economic feasible while blending in with urban planning. We have started out with the assumption that the project will be named after its late benefactor like the Rockefeller Center in New York."

According to Adv. Noach, the architect Ian Bader, a partner at the New York based firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, who is also an observant Jew, sees the major importance of the project. "We have here architectural excellence that takes into account the old buildings as well as future use. In the center will be a busy internal street something like in the Mamilla mall. There will be galleries, cafes, and restaurants. There will be a commercial center with a hotel above it as well as two apartment towers. Nearby will be a combined commercial and residential tower."

Adv. Ido Noach who also handled the project said, "The developer wanted 32 floors as allowed by the urban plan but Bader refused. He said that the moment you build such high buildings, all the same height, then it looks ugly. The only way that the project can fit in with the urban plan is if the heights of the buildings are staggered: 26, 28 and 32 floors. It's not a matter of chasing after rights but making a plan that is right for the city."

On the other hand, Dr. Ofir Lang, chairman of Jerusalem Lev Hair community administration thinks that the plan is important but contains many problems. "Our role is to bring in opinions from the street and sometimes we succeed in changing plans. A week ago we held our first joint meeting for the public reaching dozens of residents and the voices we heard expressed objections to the plan, every sector for its own reason, whether we are talking about the construction works that will mainly harm shopkeepers, or residents whose property rights will be harmed - especially key money leaseholder tenants."

"Another issue is whether the towers will serve the city's residents in the long term. We have not formed a final position on the matter. The plan has positive things and there are things that might be perceived as harmful."

"we see that there is a trend of building apartments alongside commercial property and that is welcome. On the other hand, we see that the trend is to build high-end apartments and apartments up to 45 square meters. Smaller apartments exempt developers from providing parking but it keeps families at bay and creates vacations homes for transitory populations. We think that this would harm the city center and we are concerned that this would become a complex of ghost apartments. We also have reservations about the concept of creating an internal mall because opposite we see the failed mall in the Clal Building and the Hapa'amon mall and of course existing businesses will be harmed. There are things that must be amended and therefore we will file objections."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 4, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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New Downtown Jerusalem plan Photo: Cobb Freed & Partners
New Downtown Jerusalem plan Photo: Cobb Freed & Partners
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