Building boom

As new buildings sprout across Jerusalem, the city is losing its gap-toothed smile.

The ‘pyramid tower’ on the Agrippas Street pedestrian mall, designed by New York-based ‘starchitect’ Daniel Libeskind in conjunction with local architect Yigal Levi (photo credit: Courtesy)
The ‘pyramid tower’ on the Agrippas Street pedestrian mall, designed by New York-based ‘starchitect’ Daniel Libeskind in conjunction with local architect Yigal Levi
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Thanks to Jerusalem’s current building boom, gaps in the city skyline are being replaced by gleaming new towers.
The most recent announcement of a major construction project came on August 16, when the Israel Lands Authority released the names of the winners of a tender to build two hotels and commercial buildings with 580 rooms on the south side of Daniel Yanovsky Street, opposite the Haas Promenade. The ridge – which was no-man’s-land from 1949 to 1967, when Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan – leads to the High Commissioner’s Palace (today housing the UN headquarters) and the post-1967 neighborhood of East Talpiot.
Klir Chemicals and Marketing Ltd. won a 7,700-square-meter lot, on which it will build an eight-story, 400-room hotel; Hasid Brothers Contractors and Construction Ltd. won a 3,200-sq.m. lot to build a seven-floor, 180-room hotel. Both sites offer an unobstructed view of the capital’s new and old cities, and the Mount of Olives.
“Jerusalem is receiving a major addition of rooms, boosting it toward an anticipated supply of 15,000 rooms in the coming years,” stated Tourism Ministry director-general Amir Halevi. “The city has huge tourism potential, and consequently the ministry has invested hundreds of millions of shekels in recent years in grants to developers. We are happy about the entry of two new players into this area – a development that reflects a vote of confidence and readiness to invest in tourism.”
The tender, which was published in January, is the first stage in the Yanovsky Street compound, which will ultimately include 1,330 hotel rooms, a small commercial center and parking.
Nearby on Hebron Road, adjoining Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, a cluster of skyscraper condominiums that Africa Israel Investments and other contractors are building will offer views of both the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean coast.
Meanwhile, there will be an equally striking vista from the 105-m.-tall, half-stone, half-glass pyramid on the Agrippas Street pedestrian mall downtown. The former parking lot on the corner of Eliash Street housing the ruins of the Eden Cinema (a pornography theater) has already been demolished as excavation work gets under way for the project, which received a municipal building permit in July. Designed by New York-based “starchitect” Daniel Libeskind in conjunction with local architect Yigal Levi, the new 35,000-sq.m. landmark tower will include 200 luxury apartments, a boutique hotel, a rooftop restaurant, retail stores, an outdoor public plaza and lookout points.
The pyramidal skyscraper isn’t Levi’s only project downtown. He also designed a seven-story residential tower with stores that is now under construction in a former parking lot on Shamai Street, at the corner of Bianchini Street. The project will link the piazza facing the Italian Synagogue with downtown Jerusalem’s wider network of pedestrian-only walkways.
Levi is also building the nearby Simon Wiesenthal Museum for Tolerance on Hillel Street. A billboard at the site – formerly a parking lot, and before that a deconsecrated Muslim cemetery – announces the museum will open in 2017.
Another downtown parking lot at Frumkin and Aristobulus streets has been replaced by a boutique hotel.
Just to the west, four luxury projects have sprouted on the block of Hanevi’im, Harav Agan and Harav Kook streets, surrounding Beit Harav Kook and Beit Ticho (which is set to reopen shortly following extensive restoration and conservation work). The last remaining parking lot on the block has disappeared for a future Hadassah Academic College building.
Adding to the jungle of construction cranes is the Jerusalem of Gold Tower on Rabbi Akiva Street, overlooking Independence Park. The long-delayed project is divided equally between insurance and banking magnate Shlomo Eliahu and builder Mordechai Shechter. At 25 stories and 90 m. high, the skyscraper will be shorter than Libeskind’s Pyramid and the 121-m.-high Holyland Tower in Malha, which is currently the tallest structure in the city.
Almost as tall as Jerusalem of Gold will be Minrav’s J Tower on Jaffa Road, at the corner of Kiah Street, with 23 floors of apartments. Several other projects between Mahaneh Yehuda and the central bus station will finally stitch together the tattered cityscape of the capital’s main drag.
At the heart of this new downtown is Jerusalem’s future railway station, lying 90 m. underground and slated to go into service on January 1, 2018. The station will anchor a cluster of high-rise towers at the western entrance to the city, including a new courthouse. Transportation infrastructure improvements – including, in two years, the extension of the Jerusalem Light Rail’s red line southwest to Hadassah University Medical Center and north to Neveh Ya’acov, as well as the construction of a spur to Givat Ram – will bring even more commuters to the new city center.
Perhaps the best indication of the wave of construction sweeping Jerusalem under the tutelage of Mayor Nir Barkat is that it extends to the generally neglected haredi and Arab sectors of the city.
The historic Schneller Compound on Malchei Yisrael Street, originally an orphanage and later an IDF base, is being transformed by the Rothner/Highgates Group, Zameret Developers and Tal Developers into Merom Yerushalayim, a luxury project targeting ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Similarly, Padico Holding is building 22 low-rise buildings with 232 apartments at its Rabiyet al-Quds project in Sharafat, near Beit Safafa in southwest Jerusalem. Occupancy of Phase 1 is slated for 2017.
While all of the above projects will help revitalize the capital into a modern city, none of them are offering affordable housing. The question remains: Where are Jerusalem’s legions of poor students and working people supposed to live?