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(photo credit: Courtesy)
In real estate, the saying goes, it's all about location, so one wouldn't expect a great deal of success from a project built next door to an Arab village and marketed largely to Diaspora Jews.
That's not the case, however, as Nof Zion, the private, luxurious, gated residential neighborhood with scenic views of the Temple Mount built next to the Arab village of Jabel Mukaber in eastern Jerusalem manages to attract both American Jews and Jerusalemites to the project and prepares to complete its first phase, the closing on 91 apartments, in December.
"In all of Jerusalem, you can't have a view like this at this price and that's a fact," said Dror Kaveh, CEO of Digal Investments & Holdings Ltd., the publicly traded company behind the Nof Zion project, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post at the site. "There are seven million people around the world whose dream it is to be in Jerusalem. We are making that Zionist dream come true building a Jewish community from nothing but the sand on the ground."
The developers of the project - built on private Jewish ground captured by Israel during the 1967 war - make no secret of the fact that the neighborhood is at the edge of Jabel Mukaber, a Palestinian residential area.
"Nof Zion, is a private project, purely a business venture with no political subcontext," said Kaveh.
Last year, Digal raised NIS 60 million in the stock market and NIS 17m. in a bond issue.
Yet, since announcing the project, objections to the construction have been raised with respect to Arab-Jewish relations in the city and the negative role some critics say Nof Zion will play in its surroundings as construction progresses. The developers have defended the project vociferously, however, pointing out that the construction has received legal backing every step of the way, and is being done according to plans approved by the city. Furthermore, developers promise to improve the neighborhood, bringing in more paved roads and a sewage system, a wide access road, the gardens, lighting and internal roads.
Kaveh brushed off the criticism the location of the project had been receiving. "All Jerusalem is part Arab, part Israeli," he said. "If you want to buy in Jerusalem, this is part of the reality."
As such, Nof Zion is being advertised as having the scenery that has witnessed battles, growth, empires and prosperity. "The winding alleys of the Old City, the Temple Mount, the city walls, the Mount of Olives and the City of David will be all yours. This magical scenery awaits you, each and every day at your new home," states the advertising slogan targeted mainly to Jews living outside of Israel.
"The fact that the property we bought is adjacent to an Arab village is not a concern to us, we are not afraid," said Madelaine Friedbauer, who was among the first Americans, at the end of 2005, to buy property at Nof Zion to have a foothold and a place of her own for her family in Jerusalem.
The Friedbauer family came across the project accidentally.
"My husband read about the project on the Internet and as part of our regular visits to Israel we came to view the location," Friedbauer told the Post. "We had already been looking to buy a place in Jerusalem for the past eight years but nothing fit until we saw Nof Zion. It was just right. It fit our needs in terms of space and comfort. The only concern at the time was that other people might not have the foresight to join us in building this new community."
At the edge of Jabel Mukaber on the border of the East Talpiot neighborhood, the first of four phases of construction containing 91 housing units is taking on life and promises to be completed in October, when residents will start to move in. Eventually, the private neighborhood of 461 acres will encompass 395 residential units generating a sales volume of $200 million. In the neighborhood, there will be a synagogue, a school, kindergartens, a shopping center and sports club and other amenities all suited to fit the needs of a mixed cosmopolitan, modern-Orthodox Jewish community. The site, adjacent to the Haas and Goldman promenades, will be built on a boardwalk that will be named "Levi Boardwalk" after the leading entrepreneur's parent's name.
"We have already sold 35 apartments of the 91, mainly to foreign investors from the US and Jerusalemites who are seeking to upgrade their apartment at a price that is still attractive and promises to double over the next five years. Our target is to sell the remainder of the first phase of the project by December," said Kaveh. "A year ago, we started to sell the apartments at $3,000 per square meter and today prices have already gone up to $4,000 per square meter, selling at between $400,000 and $585,000."
The company, in recent months, has stepped up its advertising and marketing campaign in Israel and abroad. The project is advertised in three languages and representatives are being sent to the UK and South Africa.
Gita Galbut, Nof Zion's US representative in Miami, said the majority of the US buyers were planning to make aliya and were making the purchases site unseen. "I would say that 90% of US buyers purchased the flats without seeing them in person, while some would send their Israeli relatives."
In addition to the residential part of the project, the developers are planning to erect a five-star 150-room boutique hotel in the gated neighborhood in cooperation with an international hotel chain.
"We will partner up with a hotel chain soon, as we believe this neighborhood, once erected, will have potential for tourism development," said Kaveh.