Grounds for disappointment

A miscalculation in the amount of building materials needed for the Arena Stadium means an additional NIS 120 million will have to be invested in the project.

Arena model 521 (photo credit: Courtesy of Spector Architects)
Arena model 521
(photo credit: Courtesy of Spector Architects)
In her book The March of Folly, author Barbara Tuchman cites cases in which leaders, faced with the facts and dire warnings, have continued down dangerous paths of action. Following an extraordinary session of the Jerusalem City Council last Tuesday, it would appear that another example could be added to her list.
Apparently, the municipality made a calculation error regarding the cost of materials needed to build the muchhyped Arena Stadium, which was supposed to have been finished in time for the 2013 Maccabiah games. As a result, it appears that the project, which is now “too big to fail,” could cause the cancellation of all other projects in the city funded by Mifal Hapayis.
The Arena Stadium was first conceived by then-mayor Ehud Olmert, himself a sports fan, back in the 1990s. The period was a heyday of sorts for the beginning of grandiose construction projects in Jerusalem – the Begin Highway, the light rail system and new roads in the north of the city to name a few.
The Arena had its critics, some of them city council members, right from the beginning. They warned that it was not really necessary as the city already had a stadium, that the project would eat up funds intended for other projects – some even went so far as to call the project “megalomaniacal.”
The basketball stadium was originally to be built next to the International Convention Center, but, as that was relatively close to some haredi neighborhoods and the stadium was to be open on Shabbat, the project met fierce resistance from haredi members of the city council. The Arena needed another address, and landed finally in Malha, next to Teddy Stadium.
However, serious doubts persisted, notwithstanding the new location. The high estimated cost – NIS 130 million at first, then NIS 240m. (within less than six months), and which has now become NIS 360m. and shows no signs of slowing down, was one of the main reasons.
“Who knows where it will finally end,” says former deputy mayor Pepe Allalu, who opposed the project from the beginning. Allalu didn’t want the Arena not because he doesn’t think that sports are a good thing, but because the magnitude of the project required all the budgets and grants available for other large public projects in the city.
Right from the beginning, the agreement between Olmert and Mifal Hapayis ruled that for next five years, all the money coming from the latter would go to the Arena project. Allalu thought the city needed a variety of projects, and that the Arena, important as it could be, didn’t justify locking up the Mifal Hapayis funds so they couldn’t be used for anything else.
The project remained on the back burner for a few years, mostly due to lack of funds. Finally, in January 2009, Mayor Nir Barkat, a great supporter of the project, managed to gather all the necessary funds (then) – NIS 240m., and with much pomp and fanfare, the cornerstone for the Arena was laid. In addition, the municipality announced that the Arena would host the Maccabiah Games on July 2013.
However, recently rumors began to circulate to the effect that a new problem had arisen. It turns out – hard to believe but true – that the municipality made a mistake in its calculation of the materials needed for the construction, and therefore a mistake in its estimate of the total cost. And not a little mistake, either – to cut a long story short, some NIS 120m. are missing, almost as much money as the original cost estimate.
“A project of this nature presents planning, operational and funding challenges that have to be dealt with,” a municipal spokesman responded, adding that the city still hopes to complete the building by the original deadline.
So what to do? Here we return to Tuchman’s theory: the council’s feeling is that too much has already been invested and therefore the project, despite all its problems, shouldn’t be stopped. The only solution is to pour more money down the hole – money that should, and could, insists Allalu, be used more wisely in many other projects.
And so the Arena is eating up our money, almost certainly preventing other good initiatives for improving the city – and will not even be ready for the Maccabiah!