Huldai threatens to close national theater

TA mayor says he needs increase of funds to at least NIS 70 million for renovation of the building.

Habima, Israel's national theater, is in danger of being closed down by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai unless the government increases funding for necessary renovations, Huldai warned Wednesday. In a letter sent Monday to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Education Minister Limor Livnat, and Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Huldai said that without an increase in renovation funds to an estimated NIS 70 million, the renovation project will not be feasible. "I am asking you to make every possible effort to come up with the sum needed for renovations so that we are not forced to close down the building and suspend the activity of the national theater," Huldai wrote. According to Huldai, if the building is not renovated before the expiration of its temporary operation license, which was given based on a renovation plan with a June 2006 deadline, there will be no choice but to close the building down for security and safety reasons. Negotiations on the building's renovation budget were initiated between the Tel Aviv city council and the Finance Ministry five years ago. The city pledged to provide half of the renovation costs, which were originally estimated at NIS 27 million, according to a city spokesperson. So far, the Education Ministry has transferred NIS 9.3 million to the city of Tel Aviv. According to a statement released by the ministry, this sum already exceeded the amount specified in the original agreement signed between the ministry and the city. The city's spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that the renovations in question - including security facilities, earthquake protection, and renovations of the Rabina hall - will cost much more than the sum initially agreed upon, and that it was impossible to commence renovations without a budget increase. At the same time, the spokesperson said, "the building in its current state is a fire trap, and it is impossible to continue operating it under these conditions." In response to Huldai's letter, the Education Ministry said Wednesday that the city council should commit to sustaining the agreement it signed and to immediately commence renovations. Rather than threatening to close the theater, its statement said, Huldai should negotiate with the Finance Ministry for an increase in funds. The statement added that Ministry Director Ronit Tirosh has already appealed to the Finance Ministry to arrange a meeting with representatives of the Tel Aviv city council in the coming weeks.