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Controversy surrounds the Jerusalem municipality's approval of a new NIS 130 million arena that is slated to become the home for Hapoel Jerusalem after the club expressed "frustration" that the facility will initially hold approximately half the number of seats acceptable under Euroleague guidelines set to take effect next year.
The municipal finance committee on Thursday gave the final official green light to the project, which specifies a 5,500-capacity multipurpose arena to be built near Teddy Stadium in Malha.
While the Euroleague currently requires all league games to be held in facilities that can seat at least 5,000, a 10,000-capacity minimum is expected to be required in 2007. Nokia Arena, the home of Maccabi Tel Aviv and the site of the 2004 Euroleague Final Four, is the only location in the country which currently meets the new rules.
Although the municipality has stressed that the proposed Jerusalem arena will have space for an additional 5,000 seats, it will not hold anywhere near the number needed to satisfy the Euroleague when the venue is scheduled to be completed in 2010.
"We think it will be a big mistake to build a facility with less than 10,000 seats," a Hapoel Jerusalem spokesman told The Jerusalem Post. "If a situation arises in which another Israeli team could enter the Euroleague, it would need 10,000 seats.
"If you are already in the process of building a new arena, why not go all the way? Don't get stuck at 5,500."
The club has been involved in the planning of a new facility since proposals were first made after Hapoel won the 2004 ULEB Cup and was invited to join the Euroleague for the following season.
However, the 2,400-capacity Malha Arena, Hapoel Jerusalem's current home, was too small and the team decided not to play its Euroleague home games at Nokia Arena.
The Hapoel spokesman said the club has become frustrated by budget constraints put in place by Mifal Hapayis, the Sports Betting Council and the municipality, who are funding the construction of the arena. A 5,000-seat expansion would cost in the region of NIS 27m.
"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can say; it's a question of budget," he said. "We made this point many times to the municipality. We understand that in the future, there will be a possibility to add 5,000 seats, but it is very frustrating because it is a chance after so many years to have an alternative to Tel Aviv, not only for Hapoel to enter the Euroleague, but to create the chance to host competitions such as the Euroleague Final Four and the State Cup final."
Responding to the concerns, Jerusalem municipality spokesman Gidi Shmerling said that he believed that the capacity of the new stadium would be large enough to accommodate all of Hapoel's fans and, should the team be accepted into the Euroleague, the city would look for additional funding to increase capacity to 10,000.
"Hapoel doesn't need more, the team wouldn't draw an audience of more than 5,000," Shmerling said. "The team will need it only if it brings the Euroleague to Jerusalem. We hope it will and we would do our best to add additional seats."
"Everything is a function of the budget," he added. "This is the budget from Payis, Toto, and the municipality. We know that if we take the average number of people who would attend [Hapoel's BSL] games, there will be no problem."
The municipality spokesman noted that Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski "sees Hapoel as very important, not only as a symbol but as a part of Jerusalem."
"As the capital of Israel, it must have a [basketball] stadium that will be fit for this city," he said.