Eilat's 'entertainment city' awaits final approval

The entertainment city will be built east of Eilat, on land that stretches north over 1,300 dunam from the Red Sea to the Rabin Border crossing to Aqaba.

eilat city 88 298 (photo credit: Drawing: Greg Damron, courtesy of the Aquaria Comp)
eilat city 88 298
(photo credit: Drawing: Greg Damron, courtesy of the Aquaria Comp)
A massive project to build the first Hebrew "entertainment city" in Eilat is awaiting final approval. American Aquaria Entertainment City Company plans to invest $300 million in the enterprise. This is not just another amusement park, they stress. The entertainment city will offer visitors Broadway-style shows, a water park influenced by the US Sea World chain, a huge play area for the children designed in the spirit of Disney World and Disney Land, spacious shopping and dining avenues, night clubs, a golf course, sports and spas. The entertainment city will be built east of Eilat, on land that stretches north over 1,300 dunam from the Red Sea to the Rabin Border crossing to Aqaba. Due to legal limitations on building on the beachfront, the investors have already promised to develop 300 dunam of the strip for the benefit of the beach-goers, in an Hawaiian style where entertaining facilities will be set on soft sand that will be spread over the rough southern terrain. The entertainment city will be erected at the heart of the desert strip, and an Olympic 18 hole golf course, spa and sports centers will be built on the rest of the strip. But first, what exactly is a Hebrew entertainment city? Brig.-Gen. (res.) Ran Peker-Ronen, a former air force commander and legendary combat pilot who shot down seven enemy jet planes and who commanded also on Tel Hai military air force base during the 1970s, is the chairman and the general manager of the Aquaria project in Israel. Equipped with a booming voice and a charismatic personality he has led the project from the very beginning, more than a decade ago. "After visiting leading parks and entertainment cities all over the world, conducting market researches and examining the tourism industry in Israel and the neighboring countries, we have managed to come up with a combination of attractions in the right proportions to the Israeli market and clientele," said Peker- Ronen. Peker's eyes light up when he talks about the city's 65 attractions, including a 7,500 seat stadium that is going to be built on the water. While the project will be located in Eilat, it will be built with much international flavor and influence. Greg Damron, an American entertainment cities designer is in charge on the planning, the MCM Tourism Company, a business that operates in 59 countries all over the world, is responsible for the financial feasibility, while the money for the project will come from the Sonneblick-Goldman company, an American real estate investment bank. Following the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in October 1994, Michael Mitchell, Joe Bernstein and Al Devaul, the owners of Aquaria Entertainment City, contacted Peker- Ronen, who at that time was about to complete his term as Israel's general consul in Los Angeles, and told him that they believed in Israel and the Middle-East's tourism future and presented their plan to him. "I told them," reminisced Peker, that "talking never accomplished anything and to make this dream a reality, you must come to Israel." "I took them to Haifa, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Ashdod and then we finally went down to Eilat. When we got there they said that this is what they saw in their vision. Eilat's former mayor Gabi Kadosh took us to the uninhabited piece of land, next to the Jordan border, and he said this is the place. We took it from there," Peker told The Jerusalem Post. "According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, an Israeli stays in Eilat for 2.8 days on average. We want to change this average to 4.5 days and I think we will because vacationers will have things to do and more of a reason to stay," explained Peker- Ronen. "This site will compete with the Sinai Peninsula and Aqaba's tourism industry and it will attract European vacationers who usually flock to vacation hot spots like Anatolia, Sharm e-Sheikh and Palma de Mallorca," said Peker. A perusal of the blueprints indicates that the developers of this project have not forgotten anything. In addition to the entertainment center, the project is planned in a way that avoids placing an added stress on Eilat's already limited transportation system. Tourists will access the entertainment complex via two bypass roads that lead to generously sized parking lots where visitors will park their vehicles and then use the city's own internal transportation. The project's designer was inspired by the famous silk road that tells the story of one of the world's oldest and most historically important trade routes and its influences on the cultures of China, Central Asia and the West and each part of the city will be designed with these distinct cultures in mind. Over the last four years the grandiose plan has already passed approval some 26 times by 14 different local and national committees and now has one more hurdle to face- a final agreement with the municipality of Eilat over the tax structure that will be imposed on the project. For the time being, no compensation agreement has been reached between the Israel Land Administration and the farmers of Kibbutz Eilot, part of whose cultivated land will purchased by the project developers. "Eilot's farmers cultivate state land in a-three-year interval agreements and they are entitled to receive alternative land in exchange, said Peker- Ronen. "I personally assured them that no tractor will come near their land until we reach a satisfactory agreement with the Israel Lands Administration," he said. From the moment final authorization is given, which is expected to come at the end of this year, all will be watching and counting down the estimated 36 months that it will take to complete the construction. "The equipment will be imported and when the infrastructure is ready the city's facilities will be brought here to the Eilat port and will be installed like Lego pieces," said Peker. According to Peker, the entire project will add between 1,000 to 2,000 jobs, depending on the season, to the Israeli economy. "This number will increase by more than 2,000-3,000 additional jobs when you take into account the numbers of drivers, shopkeepers, hair dressers and salespeople," said Peker-Ronen.