Barkat: Basketball arena should be finished by 2014

City councillor balks at ballooning price, expresses doubts that Jerusalem needs sports complex.

Nir Barkat 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Nir Barkat 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Mayor Nir Barkat promised Jerusalem’s new 10,600-seat basketball arena will be finished in time to host the 19th Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem next summer, during a tour of the future sports complex.
The complex will also include an Olympi-csize swimming pool, Israel’s biggest skating rink and 12,000 square feet of commercial and office space. The first stage of construction of the arena, which will be called Lotto Hall after the Mifal Hapais lottery, is expected to open mid-2013. In the first stage, about half of the seating will be completed, but the arena will be available for sporting events such as the Maccabiah Games and the European U-21 Cup, which the arena will host in the summer of 2013. The structure will be completely finished in April 2014.
The project is expected to cost around NIS 400 million, with approximately NIS 220 million funded by Mifal Hapais. The Mifal Hapais sponsorship of the arena means the lottery has stopped funding their other projects in the city, including youth centers, elderly services, and neighborhood sports complexes.
The municipality is still searching for at least NIS 130 million in funding to complete the project. According to City Councillor Meir Turjeman (non-affiliated), the head of the Municipality Control Committee, the Prime Minister’s Office recently turned down a request to assist with funding by making the project a national sports center.
Barkat called the sports complex “unprecedented in the world of [Israeli] sport” and added that southern Jerusalem would receive a large economic boost from the complex.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who also attended the tour, praised the initiative and commended the mayor on “realizing a dream” by hosting the Maccabiah Games in the capital.
But Turjeman lamented the high cost of the arena, which he claimed is diverting funds from important city projects.
“Don’t forget that this is the poorest city in the country, that there are kids here that don’t go to school because they can’t afford bus tickets,” he said.
“Jerusalem has the lowest rate of students passing the matriculation exams. Instead of taking the money and putting it in education so students can pass their matriculation exams, he needs an arena? This is a shame that this is the mayor’s order of priorities.”
Turjeman added that the city council originally approved the project at the cost of NIS 180 million. That figure kept moving upwards. He slammed the city for not adequately managing the costs or investigating how the price ballooned so quickly.
“If we didn’t have problems with infrastructure and sanitation and education in the city, then I’d say OK. Or if there was a private person who wanted to donate this, I’d say ok.
But this is our money, your money and my money, that is being used to build this arena! There are important problems in the city that need to be solved,” he said.
Previously, Turjeman requested the city comptroller look into the handling of the arena’s construction, a plan that was originally proposed by former mayor Ehud Olmert for the entrance of the city. The city comptroller is expected to release a report about the arena in the coming month.
Turjeman, who called himself a lifelong basketball fan, urged the city to stop work on the structure before it becomes a “white elephant” in southern Jerusalem. He said that the current basketball stadium in Malha holds 2,500 spectators and is only full during the game against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
But Avner Kopel, the president of the Israel Basketball Federation, expressed confidence that the stadium would be filled regularly.
“After there’s a hall, then the team will come,” he said, acknowledging that the Hapoel Jerusalem team has a long way to improve before it can attract Tel Aviv-size crowds at basketball games. “There is no more room for arenas with 1,500 – 2,000 seats; the country has grown,” he said.