How Jerusalem is seeking to become Israel's new 'start-up city'

The Jerusalem Development Authority is committed to strengthening hi-tech in the capital.

FROM LEFT) Jerusalem Development Authority CEO Eyal Haimovsky, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin. (photo credit: JDA)
FROM LEFT) Jerusalem Development Authority CEO Eyal Haimovsky, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
(photo credit: JDA)
Since its inception in 1988, the Jerusalem Development Authority has demonstrably lived up to its stated mission: to strengthen the capital by developing advanced infrastructure while working to harness economic and cultural growth.
From City Hall, the Biblical Zoo, Mamilla Mall, Teddy Stadium, Jerusalem Park, the BioJerusalem Center, affordable housing projects, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund and Academic City to revitalizing the Old City Basin, the JDA has indeed been at the forefront of the capital’s growth, and in a close partnership with the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, its minister Ze’ev Elkin and with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Now, CEO Eyal Haimovsky is upping the ante by working closely with the government, and Elkin in particular, to invest billions to create a sprawling hi-tech business district by the city’s western entrance.
The JDA’s ultimate goal, Haimovsky says, is to create a vibrant, fiscally sound, pluralistic and inviting capital – while reversing trends toward migration by attracting a young generation of Jerusalemites who will grow with the city and raise families of their own.
To that end, one of its most ambitious initiatives is the NIS 1.4 billion Jerusalem Gateway Project, a business district that will feature 24 high-rise buildings spread out over approximately 1 million sq.m. near the Central Bus Station and Bridge of Strings. Fourteen will have 24 stories, and the other 10 will have 36.
The new site – championed by Barkat, who hosted a cornerstone-laying ceremony there this month – is expected to create an estimated 40,000 jobs, with an additional 65,000 people coming to the city daily to buttress its foundering economy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, were active catalysts in the passage of the JDA’s five-year budget.
“We are actively planning to make the entrance to Jerusalem the country’s premier new business district,” Haimovsky says, noting that the JDA hired architects to design the site and was partnering with multiple ministries to bring it to fruition. “We’re working with the Transportation, Tourism and Finance ministries, and, of course, the Jerusalem Municipality, to raise the budget to build it over the next few years.”
Additionally, Haimovsky says the JDA is upgrading and constructing a downtown bike path from the First Station in the German Colony neighborhood, leading to the new railway station at the city entrance. It will be called “Train to Train” to compliment the current 42-km. bike path circling Jerusalem Park.
“There are going to be two bike-path rings in the city now,” he says proudly. “One is surrounding Jerusalem, and now what we are doing is creating a second, 14-km. ring in the interior of the city.”
The new path, he says – which will cost approximately NIS 40 million and become fully operational within two years – will cover the German Colony, Beit Safafa, Givat Mordechai, Sacher Park, Jaffa Road, the Jaffa Gate and Teddy Park. Nearly all the funds necessary to complete the project have been raised, he says, with a NIS 25m. infusion from the government and an additional NIS 15m. of philanthropic contributions from the Gottesman family, which has endowed the city for over 150 years.
Asked what his dream for Jerusalem is, Haimovsky says the JDA hopes to “open the city for everyone,” with an emphasis on younger residents.
“We want to continue to make it a multicultural city that everyone can visit, and make it easy for people to travel here,” he states.
“My vision is that over 80% of students in the city will stay after they finish university, and live and work in Jerusalem. That they will enjoy Jerusalem.”
Noting that the city’s many museums, shops, restaurants, historic sites, parks and movie theaters, as well as its stadium, already provide a strong foundation to attract young people, Haimovsky believes the new business district, coupled with the high-speed railway, will sweeten the pot.
“We need to take care of what we have and make it more available for people,” he explains. “We are very involved with the city and its infrastructure, and over the last 10 years, we have also become very involved with the hi-tech industry.”
Indeed, Haimovsky says the JDA is working closely with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and world-famous companies and start-ups – including Cisco, Mobile Life, Intel, and Facetune – “to put Jerusalem on the map as a start-up city.”
“First, we helped them come here; then we worked with the Hebrew University to knock down the walls between it and business people to create an industry area by the university, so the start-ups are close by and can work with it to help make advancements,” he says.
In terms of the capital’s ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews, Haimovsky says the JDA continues to work closely with Arab residents, business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their quality of life.
“The same thing we are doing in the west, we are doing in the east,” he says, referring to the areas of the city. “We have many hi-tech incubator projects on the east side, and are working with stores there to try to help them stay open later and make more money from the tourism market.”
Jerusalem has already become a center in the field of animation: four Israeli films and six Israeli international series, including Barbie and Disney productions, are currently in the works in the city, offering work for dozens of animators.
In the last three years, more than NIS 10m. were invested in animation productions in the city, creating jobs and generating NIS 30m., and employing more than 100 animators.
In the next five years, around NIS 20m. will be invested in importing production, that are expected to contribute some NIS 50m. to the city, and that will employ some 300 animators.
The JDA wishes to turn the city into an international center, that will supply not only designated animation services, but that will also develop and market “mega brands,” that have great economic potential.
Ultimately, Haimovsky says the JDA hopes to create an advanced and seamless infrastructure throughout the capital to engender growth, upgrade services and institutions, and better serve the people.
“For us, it’s important to build a bridge between the public and private sector to continue to grow the city,” he states.
And one more thing: “I want young people and couples who might move out of the capital to stay and grow with Jerusalem.”