Azrieli lives to realize his dream

85-year-old real estate pioneer David Azrieli introduced the third tower in the Center Hashalom Project this week.

It took 18 years for architect, real estate developer and shopping mall pioneer David Azrieli to realize his dream - but on Tuesday he celebrated his 85th birthday by introducing family, friends and Israel's business community to the third tower in the Azrieli Center Hashalom Project that was once one of the most controversial issues in Tel Aviv. When Azrieli, who spends his time commuting between Canada and Israel, first shared his triple tower vision for the Tel Aviv skyline, people thought that if he wasn't quite mad, he was at least eccentric. He was neither. He just happened to have the gift to see way beyond existing realities. "You needed to have a wild imagination to believe in Azrieli's vision when he started this project," Menachem Einan, president of the Azrieli group told journalists in the course of a press tour on Monday. "People without an imagination saw us as the national bottleneck." Indeed at the beginning, there were long and loud protests that the complex located on one of Tel Aviv's main intersections would hamper the flow of traffic in all directions and create chaos. That didn't happen. On the contrary, the complex is so accessible that on average it is visited by more than 40,000 people a day. That number will rise considerably once the interior of the square tower is divided into shops, offices and a prestigious business hotel. The hotel runs from floors 11-21. It will have 287 rooms and 16 suites and is due to open in November of this year. One furnished guest room with a state-of-the-art bathroom is on view for anyone who may want to make an advance reservation and wants to see what they're getting. The hotel space has been leased to Africa Israel for 25 years at $12 per square meter. Office space is more expensive and is being rented out at more than double that amount. Africa Israel has taken responsibility for construction of the hotel area which will house another Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Africa Israel chain. Azrieli said that he was very pleased with Africa Israel's standards of construction and design. When Azrieli first introduced his innovative plan, the Tel Aviv skyline bore little resemblance to Manhattan. Now there are many similarities. Azrieli set the tone for the city's high-rise trend. The circular tower in the Azrieli Center is 50 floors high; the triangular tower 46 floors and the new square tower, which should have been operating two years ago, 42 floors. No sooner was the scaffolding completed than the project was surrounded by neighboring towers. Completion of the square tower was delayed by a prolonged dispute with the Tel Aviv municipality. Total investment in the project has been $500 million. There are currently 5,500 regular employees working in the complex said Ornan Toren, who manages the Azrieli Center, but once the square tower becomes operational he added, the number will rise to 7,000. At 85, Azrieli has no intention of resting on his laurels. "I want to build up Israel," he said. He is currently completing a 50,000 square meter multi-purpose complex in Modiin with a 25,000 square meter mall and cinema, bank, 10,000-12,000 square meters of office space, and a similar sized residential area. The apartments in the Modiin City Center will be for rent, not for sale, and should be fully occupied by the end of this year. Azrieli is also building a high tech complex in Herzliya Pituah - and it doesn't stop there. A modest billionaire who delights in new challenges, he is just going to keep on innovating.