Debate continued Monday over the effect plans to build two luxury hotels will have on the capital's German Colony neighborhood, a day after more than 500 Jerusalemites gathered to protest the plans at a community center on Rehov Emek Refaim.
Local residents and rally organizers at Sunday's meeting said proposed changes to a plan approved in 2001 to build a Four Seasons hotel in the Omariya Compound would destroy the neighborhood's unique character and harm the local environment.
Benny Cohen, spokesman for the Four Seasons regarding the project, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the construction would help - not harm - the area, bringing much-needed development and jobs to Jerusalem.
The project, which represents an investment of more than NIS 700 million, will boost employment in a city with serious economic problems, Cohen said. He estimated that the development would create over 400 jobs.
"If Jerusalem does not have its anchors of tourism and development," he said, "it will become more of an extreme city, because the middle class, which needs such employment, will not find it and will move to other places."
He said the new hotel would not detract from the German Colony's character.
"The project is not built inside the German Colony," Cohen said, "but on the outskirts of this neighborhood in the vicinity of other existing hotels, and will not have any impact on the nature of the beautiful German Colony area."
However, Marik Shtern, a campaign coordinator for the residents who organized Sunday's demonstration, told the Post that the proposed building site, located at the northern end of Rehov Emek Refaim, the main road in the German Colony, was an important element of the neighborhood's character.
"It's not just the outskirts, it's the gates," Shtern said. "It will have a tremendous impact on the entrance and on the Colony as a whole. It's the first impression people will see."
Responding to claims that the proposed expansion of the hotel plans - which would increase its height from 7 to 14 floors - would destroy the Colony's skyline, Cohen said architects had been careful to take the look of the city into consideration.
"Let us rest assured that it was considered very thoroughly," Cohen said.
Shtern said the harm to the character of the German Colony outweighed the economic benefits.
"That's a short-sided view of the economy," he said. "In the short term, it might bring money to the municipality and some [people] will be employed, but in the long term that's not what the city needs."
Several Four Seasons hotels have recently been built in the Middle East, including in Cairo, Amman, Damascus and the Sinai.
According to a recent press release from the Four Seasons' PR representatives, "only in Jerusalem are the plans still making their way through the labyrinthine bureaucracy."
A committee comprising representatives of government and local residents, as well as architects, will meet within days to deliver a final and legally binding decision on the issue, Cohen said.