New life in the moribund heart of the city
Nimble municipalities, energetic developers are recognizing the potential beneath grubexteriors.
For all the reports of rising real estate prices, there are gems out there in the city. Opportunity can crop up in the form of a historic building, its grandeur coated in decades of grime, or simply dilapidated properties in fantastic locations left to rot.
Many an obstacle must be overcome before these properties can shine again. A chief hurdle comes in the form of tenacious tenants who don't want to move or accept renovation. Sometimes the neighbors complain. Also, when it comes to a heritage building, the cost of renovation while maintaining the edifice's unique qualities can be prohibitive. Maintaining the site's original character may require expensive materials.
On the upside, the market and cities appreciate these properties' special qualities, which means the extra investment isn't lost. Charm commands special prices.
Nimble municipalities and energetic developers able to recognize the potential beneath grubby exteriors, and who can raise the money, have done well by the neighborhoods and their own cash flow. In some places, original buildings were renovated and new public buildings were put up such as the Old Train Station in south Tel Aviv. In other cases, the original buildings were razed entirely and new ones went up.
We've chosen a collection of urban renewal stories that show what can be done in areas that nobody had thought to touch.
Abarbanel Market, Rehovot
Location: Rehovot's Sha'arayim quarter
Years built: 1960s
Investment: Tens of millions of shekels
Developer: Rehovot municipality
Architect: Dalia Lapidot (Housing )
History of the property and its renovation: Over the last century the Sha'arayim quarter has been home to immigrants from Yemen and their descendants. The Abarbanel Market sits at the center of the quarter, between Abarbanel and Bar Kochva streets on about 2.2 dunams of land (about half an acre ). Established in the 1960s, the market was occupied by shops owned by local residents, but only one remains - the popular Badihi's butcher shop.
As owners died the market began emptying out; 20 years ago little commerce was left. In the late 1990s the Rehovot municipality, the owner of the land, began evicting the remaining shopkeepers.
About 10 years ago the municipality came up with the idea to build a heritage center and museum in the area for Yemenite Jews. To finance the project, it decided to build two high-rises as well, named The Museum Project, with 54 apartments earmarked for affordable housing for younger people. Approved last June, the project will consist of apartments of three and a half to five rooms ranging from 98 to 125 square meters. They will be sold at 15 to 20 percent below the market price.
The complex is being promoted by the development arm of the Rehovot municipality, which will issue a tender to choose the builder and then market the apartments once the last shopkeeper is evicted.
"The project was first presented to the municipality 11 years ago," says Hanania Koresh, in charge of municipal assets and local heritage at Rehovot's city hall. "The Sha'arayim quarter is 100 years old and has no apartments for young people, even though they want to remain there. Establishing a museum and the housing complex reflects the mosaic of all waves of immigration. The intention is to build an impressive center like the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv."
New towers in Rishon Letzion
Location: Sela quarter, east Rishon Letzion
Year built: 1950
Investment: NIS 1.25 billion
Developer: Dunietz Brothers
Architect: Feigin Architects
History of the property and its renovation: Forty-nine high-density low-rise residential blocks containing 280 apartments originally settled in the 1950s by immigrants relocated from transit camps.
Like many other urban renewal initiatives, this project got off to a rough start. Eight years ago, developers tried to launch plans to evacuate and demolish the old buildings and resettle the occupants in modern high-rises on the site. This idea had the Housing Ministry’s support but didn’t get off the ground. Only after Dunietz Brothers bought a parcel of land in the complex for $7 million in 2006 did things get started. The residents and the local planning and building committee began cooperating.
The plan includes the construction of 14 towers, 25 to 30 stories each, with a total of 1,400 apartments. The district planning and building committee gave its approval in November 2009 despite objections from owners of single-family homes on nearby streets.
Unusually, this project will be done in stages so the residents won’t have to relocate during construction. They’ll be able to move directly into the new buildings.
The first tower, 30 stories high, is nearly complete; then newly-evacuated buildings will be demolished to allow for the construction of the next tower.
The project has been dubbed Artists Town because the city plans to build an arts center on adjoining land that will include galleries and studios.
A classic on Bialik Street
Location: 27 Bialik St., Tel Aviv
Year built: 2008
Investment: $5 million
Developer: City of Tel Aviv Housing
Architect: Efrat-Kowalsky Architects
Interior design: Meira Kowalsky
History of the property and its renovation: The Old City Hall on Bialik Street, next door to the home of Israel’s national poet, had been built by the Skura family in 1924. The family had decided to build a hotel in the fledgling city, designed by architect Moshe Cherner. The hotel opened for business in 1925, but tourism was thin in those years. Still, Tel Aviv was developing, and the building that housed the municipality on Rothschild Boulevard proved too small.
Mayor Meir Dizengoff wanted to build a new city hall from scratch, but for the time being, he moved the municipality to the Skura Hotel. When it turned out that the cash-poor city didn’t have the wherewithal to build a new home for itself, Dizengoff decided in 1928 that the city would buy the hotel instead, for an undisclosed sum.
Over the years, the building served a number of purposes, including a municipality tribunal on the ground floor. Only in 1965 did the municipality get a new home, on Ibn Gvirol Street, where it is to this day. The Skura Hotel remained empty. In 1972 part of it was converted to a museum featuring the history of Tel Aviv.
In 2006, ahead of Tel Aviv’s centennial celebration, the municipality decided to fix up the old horse and published a tender for its rehabilitation. The winner was Efrat-Kowalsky, which began work in 2008.
Meir Dizengoff’s original office was also brought back to life.
Jaffa, by the sea
Location: From Jaffa Port in the north to Givat Ha’aliyah in the south
Years built: 2006-2009
Investment: NIS 60 million
Developer: City of Tel Aviv Housing
Architect: Broida-Maoz World Landscape Architecture
History of the property and its renovation: The job of building a park on the sandy hill of trash between the port in the north to Givat Ha’aliyah in the south is one of Israel’s biggest rehabilitation projects ever.
In 1988 the city closed down the site and banned the dumping of construction waste there. But local builders continued to dump illegally. The trash hill reached 15 meters high. It was an eyesore and an environmental snake pit that reflected, as far as the Ajami neighborhood’s residents were concerned, the establishment’s indifference to their living conditions. The trash ruined the sea view, and fires would sometimes break out. At the shoreline, trash would fall into the water.
Rehabilitation work started in 2006, after a decision by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai to return the Jaffa beachfront to residents and build a public park. Some 1.3 tons of dumped construction waste was removed, to be reused to rebuild the park and to aid infrastructure projects around the country.
The job was carried out by Tel Aviv’s planning department with the help of construction company Ezra Ubitzaron, which does urban renewal work. The company built a path for bicycles and pedestrians along the beach, laid down grass on the hill, cleaned up the beach, and built sports facilities and a short fishing pier.