J'lem municipality gives first approval for 2 skyscrapers

Libeskind’s 120m.-high ‘Eden complex’ will house hotels, apartments and theaters.

Skyscrapers (illustrative) (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Skyscrapers (illustrative)
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The face of downtown Jerusalem is set to change dramatically after two major construction projects for tall buildings in the city center were approved by various municipality committees over the past week.
The larger project, Eden center, a 120-m. tall building designed by super-architect Daniel Libeskind who planned the Ground Zero memorial in New York City, will include hotels, stores, apartments and movie theaters.
The Eden center will be located on Agrippas Street on the site of the former Eden movie theater, and was approved by the Local Planning and Building Committee.
Also last week, the Preservation Committee approved a project to completely redo the iconic building at the corner of Jaffa and King George streets that once housed the Sbarro restaurant and was the site of a fatal terrorist attack 10 years ago. The Preservation Committee approved a plan that will keep the exterior of the building, while adding an additional seven floors for a major office, commercial and apartment building. A memorial plaque will be included in the new plan to commemorate the 15 Israelis who were killed there on August 9, 2001.
Both projects still have additional committees to pass before they receive their final approval. The municipality, which did not initiate either of the projects, said it saw the new buildings as a way to reinvigorate the downtown, which struggled economically after the wave of terrorist attacks in the second intifada.
“The municipality supports the construction of office and commercial towers in the center of the city, and especially along Jaffa Road, and there are a number of similar projects in stages of approval,” said a municipality spokeswoman.
At 120 m., the Eden complex will be the second-tallest building in Jerusalem, after the Holyland Tower, which clocks in at 121m. It will be considered a skyscraper by international standards, which generally consider skyscrapers to be 120m. and over.
Jerusalem has long been known as a city where low, white buildings with red roofs follow the contour of the rolling hills, worlds away from where the sleek skyscrapers of Tel Aviv reach towards the heavens. These two projects will drastically alter the face – and skyline – of Jerusalem’s downtown.
“There’s an understanding the city needs to grow and needs to build the economic base, but the question is where they should do that,” said David Karnovsky, a city planner from New York City, who is in the midst of a 9-week fellowship in Jerusalem sponsored by the American Academy in Jerusalem to study city planning in the capital.
The entrance to the city, at the end of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high speed train – which is currently under construction – is part of the mayor’s plan for a new technology park, with multiple skyscrapers, a major entertainment hub and cinema, and a hope to entice businesses to come to Jerusalem.
Karnovsky, who did not examine the two downtown projects, said that the expansion of Jaffa Road upwards required “a lot of hard thought.”
Moving away from the “low rise character” of the downtown is a big decision, since it will change Jerusalem, he said. He cautioned that the key to successful development in the downtown was a long-range plan for the area rather than opportunistic contractors clambering for a piece of real estate.
“Some planners might say, this is not the place, if you’re going to densify, you should do it somewhere else, and you should leave Jaffa street low or mid-rise,” said Karnovsky. But the downtown was also primed for growth due to the recent completion of the light rail after years of construction, he added.
Store owners of Jaffa Road have complained that after the completion of the light rail, landlords doubled or even tripled their rent, in anticipation of a regeneration of the downtown.
“One of the things that we have done in New York City is try to orient development and growth around transit notes… From a general planning point of view, now that you have the light rail, it may make a lot of sense that there is an opportunity for growth and development in the Jaffa corridor,” he said.
“If you’re looking for places to grow in order to remain vital and energetic, there is a logic to locating it there.”