Grapevine: Neglected buildings

August 6, 2016 08:07
3 minute read.
the former President Hotel Jerusalem

The site of the former President Hotel on Ahad Ha’am Street. In a comic twist, the derelict sign now reads ‘Resident Ho.’. (photo credit: ERICA SCHACHNE)


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FOLLOWING THE example set by the Jerusalem Municipality in doubling municipal tax rates on apartments that remain unoccupied for most of the year, other municipalities are beginning to follow suit.

The former President Hotel on Ahad Ha’am Street was purchased some two decades ago by Africa Israel Investments – of which the chairman and chief shareholder is billionaire Lev Leviev, whose original plan was to build a luxury residential complex similar to others that Africa Israel has constructed elsewhere in the city. But the municipality had other ideas and wanted him to build a hotel instead. Leviev, who thought that there were already enough hotels in the area, declined.

Over the years the building housed new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. After they moved out, it was invaded by homeless people. When they were finally evicted, the building was a shambles of broken doors and windows. Although the building is sealed off and has danger signs around it, passersby can still see from one end of the corridor to the other.

The President Hotel was once the pride of the city – the first hotel in Jerusalem with a swimming pool. Guests included David and Paula Ben-Gurion. Two years ago the municipality and Africa Israel finally reached an agreement whereby the project would be a mixed facility with a 180-room hotel and numerous residential apartments, the actual number of which was not determined.

The Leonardo Plaza when it was built included several private apartments, of which some were rented out by the hotel on behalf of the owners and others were used exclusively by the owners. When the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was built on the site of the former Palace Hotel, an adjacent residential complex was built at the same time, with hotel services available to the owners of the apartments. The Isrotel complex, now in the final stages of construction in the German Colony, also includes a residential complex. Africa Israel has still not done anything about the property in Ahad Ha’am Street.

Just around the corner, at 7 Smolenskin Street, the building that was once the stately Schocken home, then for many years the Rubin Music Academy and after that the Shuvu School, is now overrun with weeds and shrubs and has become a repository for debris.

There were plans some years ago to build a luxury facility for retirees, but there was strong opposition from neighbors, who went to court and surprisingly won their case. A hut has been established at the front of building, as a storage center for large water tanks intended for the Prime Minister’s Residence next door.

Meanwhile, the Solel Boneh building on King George Avenue, which has been vacant for decades, is also targeted for preservation, meaning that a hotel will be built around it. The façade has already been removed. Diagonally opposite is the Tirat Bat Sheva hotel, which was in receivership for several years and leased to the Jewish Agency and the Immigration and Absorption Ministry. The eight-story property was sold on auction in 2005 and purchased by American investors for $11.2 million. Prior to the sale, the receiver had succeeded in having the property rezoned to residential, and permission was granted by the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee for a 16-story structure that also incorporated an adjacent house. The hotel had 80 rooms. The restructured building will have 80 apartments.

Nothing was done to the building until last year, when reconstruction began, and the extra floors were added. But work on the project stopped some months ago, and there is no indication as to when it will resume.

VETERAN HAREDI journalist and radio host Rabbi Israel Gelis will be the guest speaker (in Hebrew) at a 10 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, August 9, at Beit Tovei Ha’ir, 36 Malchei Israel Street. His topic will be “From Destruction to Resurrection.” Participation is free of charge, but anyone interested in attending should be aware that there are no parking facilities, and it is therefore advisable to use public transport.

AT LAST week’s meeting between the city council’s transportation committee and residents of the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Baka and Katamon, Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman was an acute minority in favoring the implementation of the light rail’s Blue Line without any future review, despite the strong opposition to its route going along Emek Refaim Street.

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