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Construction of new Tel Aviv Central Bus Station Photo by Daniel Rosenblum
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"Twenty-six years after construction first began, the central bus station in Tel Aviv will open at 5 A.M. today. Some 5,000 buses and 150,000 people are expected to pass through the station every day," Revital Bracha reported in Haaretz. "If all the plans materialize, 1,500 shops and 11 movie theaters, along with entertainment halls, restaurants, banks and information services will await passengers."

Haaretz wrote in its editorial that the opening, which took place after numerous delays, means that "the white elephant has turned into a project bustling with life." The plans of the station's first developer, Aryeh Piltz, to "force users of public transit to pass through the large commercial center to be built on the site, pressuring them to shop," was delayed for years due to irregularities in planning and expenses. But his plans were eventually carried out by building contractor Mordechai Yona, who bought the skeleton frame of the station for $5 million.

Unlike the optimistic project planners, residents of the area didn't know what to expect. They "don't know whether the value of their apartments will rise significantly or fall below their currently very low prices," wrote Haaretz correspondent Amos Be'er.

At the opening ceremony, attended by 7,000 people, some 300 neighborhood residents held a demonstration. "Tenants say that, in contrast to what was promised, they were not moved away from the site, and not paid for damage to their property," wrote Bracha. Yossi Sarid, the environment minister at the time, said the lives of hundreds of area residents were likely "to become hellish."

In Doron Rosenblum's signature style, the columnist mocked Israel's attempt to import progress from overseas.

"The opening of the new central bus station in Tel Aviv was accompanied by such euphoria that it seemed that a truly tremendous plot had been hatched for us by contractors, PR people and the media," he wrote. "From a certain point of view, it really was a kind of intrigue: another conspiracy to reinvent our lives - if not from above, through education, politics and a constitution, then from below, with cement, lighting, signs, commerce and an international look. The assumption is that the well-lit and tidy appearance of abundance, solidarity and foreignness will succeed in creating a reality that is less provincial, paltry and remote, and then perhaps people will be more enlightened, polite and happier."

"This way," Rosenblum suggested, "loneliness will be a little more bearable, distances will feel closer and the desire to travel will subside a bit. The new bus station is, since yesterday, the biggest bubble of all - part mall, part 'center,' part terminal for those on their way to the airport - and from that perspective, it appears to satisfy the ultimate desire: to be here but feel that one is heading elsewhere. This is despite the fact that, unfortunately, there are not so many wheres (who takes a bus to swim in the Kinneret or the Sachne hot springs? ). And there is no when (after all, there are no buses on Saturdays and holidays ). There's not even a what (who ever heard of a central bus station without a link to railroad tracks or a subway? ) or a why (who would fight the traffic jams in south Tel Aviv just to head north to Herzliya? )."

Seventeen years after the bus station opened, a conversation with Miki Ziv, the current CEO of the company that runs it, reveals that today there are only half the planned amount of shops (700 ) and that the movie theaters remained in the realm of fantasy. But the bus station does house three churches, three nightclubs, three computer schools, the offices of a Russian-language newspaper, a production company and an entire floor of shoe stores, as well as serving as a meeting place for migrant workers.