Kikar Zion saved

Canadian donors pull out of a controversial city-center project.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Jerusalem Foundation recently reversed its proposal to rename Kikar Zion "Rapoport Plaza" in honor of the Waco, Texas tycoon who pledged $2 million for urban improvements there. Information about the name switch - which was removed last month from the Jerusalem Foundation's Web site - has been obtained by In Jerusalem. The description of the project included: "Architect and sculptor Ron Arad was chosen to develop a plan for Zion Square, which is soon to be renamed Rapoport Plaza." Jerusalem Foundation spokesperson Liat Rosner called the proposed name change a "misunderstanding," saying that only officials at the Kikar Safra municipality building had the authority to designate or change the monikers of city streets and squares. The JF reversed its plans to change the historic name following a protest by a new grassroots citizens' group called Lemallah. The urban activists argued that Kikar Zion could no more be renamed than Times Square in New York, Red Square in Moscow or Piccadilly Circus in London. "A billionaire was stopped by a citizens' group in a classic David and Goliath battle," said Lemallah leader Yossi Yomtov, a designer originally from San Francisco, who moved to Jerusalem in 1999. "We blew the whistle and stopped the name of Zion Square being changed to Rapoport Plaza." Instead the storied square where Jaffa Road intersects with the Ben-Yehuda Pedestrian Mall at the heart of Jerusalem will keep its original name, while the art that will decorate the square will be signposted in acknowledgement of its American benefactor, a long-standing supporter of Jerusalem, whose wife's name graces the Audre Rapoport High School in the Katamonim. But the question remains: What will that public art be? As reported in In Jerusalem ("$2-million mystery in Zion Square," March 24, 2006), the Jerusalem Foundation's Canadian branch, chaired by Montreal shopping mall developer David Azrieli, last year launched a $2m. campaign for the square which would include some major public sculptures by Arad, a cutting-edge London based artist and architect known for his abstract work. Dan Meridor, the international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, wowed a select audience of Toronto's movers and shakers last March at the Royal Bank of Canada's executive dining room, atop its 40-story Bay Street headquarters in downtown Toronto. While tickets for the RBC-sponsored kosher fete were complimentary, $200,000 was raised that night in donations and pledges. Though Arad's controversial proposals were shown to design students at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, his designs and drawings have never been made public. Concerned about the difficulty of raising funds for an unknown project with no transparency, the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada switched its fundraising to a more tangible plan, designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, to redevelop Kikar Zahal. Safdie's design with its amphitheater atop a traffic tunnel is now nearing completion, in preparation for June 5, the 40th anniversary of the reunification of the city during the Six Day War. A formal dedication is slated for the Jerusalem Foundation's international donors meeting, which runs from October 18-24. Concerned by the Jerusalem Foundation's failure to disclose Arad's designs, activist Yomtov has proposed that a 12-meter-high Star of David be erected over Kikar Zion. His titanium "Zion Peace Dome" can be viewed at Aharon Agassi, a senior adviser to Mayor Uri Lupolianski, has asked Yomtov to prepare a more detailed presentation of his proposed Zion Peace Dome. Meanwhile Arad's gentrification plans remain a $2m. mystery.