More than a few owners of soccer teams and well-known soccer players have dabbled in real-estate dealings over the years - the late Robbie Shapira, formerly the owner of Hapoel Haifa; Meir Shamir, president of Hapoel Petah Tikva; and Haim Revivo, the soccer star who joined forces with Jack Zaken to found a real-estate company and recently purchased land for construction at a dizzying pace.
Another figure in this playing field is Amos Luzon, owner and CEO of A. Luzon Building and Investment, which operates mainly in Petah Tikva. Luzon earned a name for himself as a local patron thanks to his support of a municipal soccer team.
Luzon told Haaretz that he has a large inventory of land and is building quite a bit. He says that his company, which he founded in 1995 and owns outright, focused up until a few years ago on industrial buildings, offices and commercial space. In 2002, the company changed direction and since then has focused only on initiating residential projects.
According to Luzon, his company has land reserves for 1,500 apartments, most of them in Petah Tikva. The company has so far built 300 housing units and is currently building 200 more in the Marom Ganim project in Petah Tikva's centrally located Ein Ganim neighborhood, in conjunction with America-Israel. Next month, Luzon will commence construction on 230 apartments in three 22-story towers opposite the Neve Oz country club, near the new Neve Oz neighborhood. In 2006, the company will build 150 additional apartments in Petah Tikva.
You are both the president of the Maccabi Petah Tikva soccer team and a real estate developer, correct?
Luzon: "Yes, I have been in real estate since 1984. My biggest deals were in 1992 and 1993, mostly in Petah Tikva. I have a few hundred dunams in Pardes Gan Haim, too, opposite Basra.
Meir Shamir, Revivo, Shapira - they all wanted to be involved in real estate. Do you see any special reason?
"The best deals are in real estate. Even high-tech players view real estate as an anchor. Once, in the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of money was made on real estate. After the past seven lean years for the real estate industry, we should have seven good years. I believe that the market is very hot today; land prices have not dropped one shekel in recent years, and now they are starting to rise thanks to demand.
Did your investment in the soccer team help business?
"I invest millions of shekels in the team annually, and don't get a thing - but soccer is [like] love. It is an illness. It is a home that you never leave. In 1998, I bought the team and have been with it ever since."
Even so, you must get something for your investment, no?
"If I manage to save even one child from getting mixed up in crime, that is my reward."
What about commercial gain?
"It gives me power, recognition and municipal muscle - apart from that, its meaningless."
That's still a lot, and it certainly must help shortening bureaucratic processes at city hall.
"I couldn't tell you that I'm neglected. There is no doubt that the power produces results, but not always. Sometimes the power helps and sometimes it is a hindrance. Some municipal clerks want to show that there is no favoritism for a municipal patron, and they pile up obstacles for no reason, involving themselves in the bureaucracy."
People with municipal influence usually have connections in the local planning committee that often help in gaining extra building rights on projects, building code leniencies and faster permit approvals. Is this true in your case, too?
"With all due respect to the local committee, it is just one small institution. Decisions concerning additional building rights come from the regional planning and building committee. The main hurdle when it comes to changing an urban plan is at the regional or national level, where things are much more difficult. There, professionals examine the plan, not the person. Passing the local committee is only 20-25 percent of the journey; if you don't have a good and proper plan, connections won't help you with the regional [committee]."
Has the regional committee ever delayed your plans?
"Of course. The project I am starting now is an example. I purchased the land in 1994 and it took me eight years to get the urban building plan approved."
So the bureaucracy hurts you too.
"Sure. I, like everyone else, am dependent on the bureaucracy. I buy agricultural land and have it rezoned for [residential] construction. Sometimes the bureaucracy is exhausting and detrimental. Until not so long ago, for example, I had land at 96 Hayarkon St. in Tel Aviv. I sold it after I gave up on the Tel Aviv municipal bureaucracy."
Are you the biggest developer in Petah Tikva?
"Yes. None of the local contractors even comes close to me. They all build eight, 10 or 20 units. They are not used to contractors building an entire neighborhood. I build neighborhoods. I have no land for fewer than 150 apartments."
Do landowners offering their property for sale favor you over other contractors?
"Of course. When it comes to private land owners, all the offers come to me first."
Even when your offer is more expensive?
"In combination deals - yes."
Because you are the strongest [developer] in the city?
"No, because [the seller] knows he will get the project with the best quality and timing."
More than from the big, well-known companies - Africa Israel and Delek Real Estate?
What about Israel Lands Administration lands? Do you bid on tenders?
"I don't deal in ILA lands. When I am offered ILA land on the telephone, I hang up. At first, I tried to conduct business with the ILA, but I couldn't get any straight answers. They did not know how to interpret their own laws. Since then, I pass them up."
What about political involvement?
"I was a member of the Likud Central Committee until the last elections. I saw what it was all about and ever since, I have stopped paying party dues."
What excites you more, a decisive soccer game or a big real estate deal?
"These days, neither of them. Only my children make me excited."
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