|Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post|
Barkat: Basketball arena should be finished by 2014
By MELANIE LIDMAN
City councillor balks at ballooning price, expresses doubts that Jerusalem needs sports complex.
Mayor Nir Barkat promised Jerusalem’s new 10,600-seat basketball arena will be
finished in time to host the 19th Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem next summer,
during a tour of the future sports complex.
The complex will also include
an Olympi-csize swimming pool, Israel’s biggest skating rink and 12,000 square
feet of commercial and office space. The first stage of construction of the
arena, which will be called Lotto Hall after the Mifal Hapais lottery, is
expected to open mid-2013. In the first stage, about half of the seating will be
completed, but the arena will be available for sporting events such as the
Maccabiah Games and the European U-21 Cup, which the arena will host in the
summer of 2013. The structure will be completely finished in April
The project is expected to cost around NIS 400 million, with
approximately NIS 220 million funded by Mifal Hapais. The Mifal Hapais
sponsorship of the arena means the lottery has stopped funding their other
projects in the city, including youth centers, elderly services, and
neighborhood sports complexes.
The municipality is still searching for at
least NIS 130 million in funding to complete the project. According to City
Councillor Meir Turjeman (non-affiliated), the head of the Municipality Control
Committee, the Prime Minister’s Office recently turned down a request to assist
with funding by making the project a national sports center.
called the sports complex “unprecedented in the world of [Israeli] sport” and
added that southern Jerusalem would receive a large economic boost from the
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who also attended the
tour, praised the initiative and commended the mayor on “realizing a dream” by
hosting the Maccabiah Games in the capital.
But Turjeman lamented the
high cost of the arena, which he claimed is diverting funds from important city
“Don’t forget that this is the poorest city in the country,
that there are kids here that don’t go to school because they can’t afford bus
tickets,” he said.
“Jerusalem has the lowest rate of students passing the
matriculation exams. Instead of taking the money and putting it in education so
students can pass their matriculation exams, he needs an arena? This is a shame
that this is the mayor’s order of priorities.”
Turjeman added that the
city council originally approved the project at the cost of NIS 180 million.
That figure kept moving upwards. He slammed the city for not adequately managing
the costs or investigating how the price ballooned so quickly.
didn’t have problems with infrastructure and sanitation and education in the
city, then I’d say OK. Or if there was a private person who wanted to donate
this, I’d say ok.
But this is our money, your money and my money, that is
being used to build this arena! There are important problems in the city that
need to be solved,” he said.
Previously, Turjeman requested the city
comptroller look into the handling of the arena’s construction, a plan that was
originally proposed by former mayor Ehud Olmert for the entrance of the city.
The city comptroller is expected to release a report about the arena in the
Turjeman, who called himself a lifelong basketball fan,
urged the city to stop work on the structure before it becomes a “white
elephant” in southern Jerusalem. He said that the current basketball stadium in
Malha holds 2,500 spectators and is only full during the game against Maccabi
But Avner Kopel, the president of the Israel Basketball
Federation, expressed confidence that the stadium would be filled
“After there’s a hall, then the team will come,” he said,
acknowledging that the Hapoel Jerusalem team has a long way to improve before it
can attract Tel Aviv-size crowds at basketball games. “There is no more room for
arenas with 1,500 – 2,000 seats; the country has grown,” he said.