J'lem YMCA recreation center expected to be ready next year

10,000-square complex to include eight-lane swimming pool, college-size gymnasium, 3 squash courts.

ymca 298. 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
ymca 298. 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The construction of a state-of-the-art sports and recreation center on the grounds of Jerusalem's landmark YMCA is scheduled to be completed by next year, officials said Monday. The 10,000-square meter underground recreation center, which is being built just behind the original Jerusalem YMCA building, will include an eight-lane indoor swimming pool, a college-size gymnasium, three squash courts, and three-floor locker rooms, said YMCA Director General Norris Lineweaver. The project is being built by an Israeli construction company which is building a luxury condo complex and a large underground parking lot just behind the YMCA The Rassco Construction Company reached an agreement with the YMCA whereby they were given a 150-year lease on the land, where they are constructing about 200 million-dollar condos. The site previously housed the city's sports stadium until the opening of the Teddy Stadium in southwest Jerusalem in 1991. The construction project, which has been a quarter century in planning, received the go-ahead from the Jerusalem Municipality in 1997 after a dispute over city taxes stemming from land rezoning was sorted out, Lineweaver said. The Jerusalem Municipality had originally wanted to tax the YMCA several million dollars for rezoning the land from a commercial site to a mixed commercial-residential site, but the YMCA balked. After years of negotiations which began under the late former mayor Teddy Kollek and concluded with former mayor Ehud Olmert, an agreement was reached whereby the YMCA would "pay" the tax in community services, such as swimming classes for east Jerusalem residents, orchestra performances, and kindergarten classes, YMCA officials said. "The YMCA was always land-rich and cash-poor," Lineweaver said. Critics charge, however, that the YMCA got a steal on the deal. A petition to the High Court of Justice by a government watchdog group, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, against the deal was rejected even though the court criticized the agreement. The recreation center, which is meant to be the premier sports facility in central Jerusalem, is scheduled to open in November 2008, he said. The site, which is accessible to the disabled, is being built underneath a small green area and atrium, and will cater both to families with children, the elderly, and students in central Jerusalem. The 900-lot underground parking garage will include over 200 spaces for the general public, and an equal number for nearby businesses in traffic-congested central Jerusalem, including the American consulate and the King David Hotel. Sixty-five of the first 100 condos for sale in the luxury building project, dubbed "King David's Crown" have been sold, with all the buyers except one from abroad, a Rassco official said Monday. The YMCA's hotel and restaurant in its original building will continue to operate, and will be expanded as a result of the new construction project. The YMCA, which was constructed by the same architects as the Empire State Building, opened its doors in 1933 with a dedication speech by General Allenby. Before 1967, its popular observation tower afforded Jews a bird's eye view of the nearby Old City and the Western Wall when the city was still divided.