Flourishing despite the scandal

By JOHN BENZAQUEN
July 19, 2012 11:31

The corruption case has not deterred buyers in the Holyland complex.

4 minute read.



Flourishing despite the scandal

Flourishing despite the scandal . (photo credit: Courtesy Anglo-Saxon)

Many consider the Holyland building project a blot on the Jerusalem skyline, an architectural monstrosity. But it is nevertheless a complex of approximately 500 high-end dwellings that has found favor among national-religious residents, as well as French Jews who either have made aliya, or are buying property for investment purposes or as a second home.

The Holyland complex comprises a residential tower of over 30 stories and five other buildings of eight to 12 stories, connected at the top two floors by a bridge apartment. The complex also has a series of terraced dwellings at its base.

But what makes the Holyland particularly interesting is that it is at the center of one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals.

The project is built on the site of the old Holyland Hotel, famous for its highly detailed model of Jerusalem’s Old City during the Second Temple period.

Most of the land in the area was designated for tourist purposes, mostly for building hotels. But the zoning changed to residential, and the state prosecution claims that this occurred because those in charge received bribes. The prosecution charges that between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland Development Company and associated land developers paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior decision-makers in the Jerusalem Municipality – including former mayors Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski – as well as members of its planning and construction committee and officials in the Israel Lands Administration.

The Holyland project is located in the capital’s Ramat Sharett neighborhood. And this week’s “Neighborhood Watch” covers both Ramat Sharett and Ramat Denia. These southwest Jerusalem neighborhoods are considered high-end, and consequently real-estate prices are higher than the city’s average.

Both neighborhoods were planned after the Six Day War, when the government was keen on enlarging the city. Ramat Denia takes its name from the Denia Sibus construction company, which was instrumental in building the neighborhood, and Ramat Sharett was named in memory of Moshe Sharett, who served as the country’s second prime minister from 1953 to 1955.

The neighborhoods attracted many middle-class families because when planned they were well on the outskirts of the city and therefore had a suburban atmosphere. The area also attracted religious families because of its proximity to the established religious neighborhood of Bayit Vagan.

Today Ramat Denia is almost totally secular, while Ramat Sharett is becoming increasingly religious – a process occurring in other parts of Jerusalem as well.

Aiding this trend is an influx of religious Jews from the Diaspora, for whom Ramat Sharett has a strong appeal.

Demand for real estate in the area is relatively strong, and it has been less affected than other parts of Jerusalem by the weak real-estate markets of the past two years.

This also holds true for the Holyland complex: The corruption scandal has not affected demand.

Michal Harel, a real-estate broker who operates in the area on behalf of the Anglo-Saxon network, tells In Jerusalem that “when the corruption story broke, the bad publicity associated with the project, especially those who criticized it as an architectural monstrosity, affected demand. But very soon this was forgotten, and demand is based on the merits of the property in question.”

Generally speaking – and despite its outward appearance, which clashes with topography – the apartments are large, airy and well-built. They are also modern, and in contrast to other “modern” developments, the mix includes two-room apartments, something of a rarity in buildings constructed after the ’60s. In the area covered here one can find two-, three-, four- and five-room apartments, as well as terrace-type dwellings built on the sloping terrain, garden apartments, penthouses and mini-penthouses.

Prices in the area have remained steady with a tendency to rise.

“The area has a lot of appeal for middle-class families, and in some ways it is very, very middle class,” says Harel. “Until recently Ramat Denia was not served by public transportation, since most families owned more than one car. Furthermore, Ramat Sharett, because of its proximity to Bayit Vagan, has great appeal to modern Orthodox Jews because it gives them the best of both worlds – a modern neighborhood with all the advantages of modern secular society, with the added attractions of the religious institutions in nearby Bayit Vagan.”

Despite the appeal, though, price is a barrier, and only those with deep pockets can afford the homes in the area.

Generally speaking, the price for an average tworoom apartment is NIS 1.3 million. A three-room apartment can cost NIS 1.4m., an average spacious four-room apartment can cost NIS 2m., and a fiveroom apartment can reach NIS 2.5m.

Penthouses and single-family homes or semidetached houses can cost anywhere from NIS 4m. to NIS 6m.\

Recent real-estate transactions:

• A two-room, 68-square-meter apartment on the seventh floor, without parking or a storeroom and in dire need of redecorating, sold for NIS 1.3 million.

• A four-room, 100-sq.m. apartment on the first floor, without parking or storeroom, sold for 1.6m.

• A single-family home on a 250-sq.m. plot with a built-up area of 480 sq.m. sold for NIS 4.83m.

• A five-room, 170-sq.m. apartment with no parking sold for NIS 2.4m.

• A three-room, 68-sq.m. apartment on the second floor, no parking, sold for NIS 1.25m.


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