Jerusalem Committee Orders Revamping of Cinema City Roof

Arguing that cineplex's developer ignored original plans – and proximity to Supreme Court – local appeals body sets one-year deadline for converting upper section into a public plaza.

Emil Salman

The Jerusalem District Appeals Committee revoked the building permit for part of the capital’s Cinema City complex on Sunday. The committee ordered that the roof be torn down and that the entertainment area located in the cineplex's upper part be removed and converted into a public space, as originally planned.

When Cinema City, built by the Shapir Company on state-owned land, opened a little over a year ago, it was severely criticized by architects and planning bodies, as well as by a few justices of the Supreme Court. The thrust of the criticism was that the structure overshadowed its surroundings, especially the court across the road. There was also criticism about how far the construction strayed from the original plan.

According to that plan, a majority of the area was slated to become a large open public plaza. Instead, it was covered with a ceiling, the commercial area there was expanded, corridors and entrances were built in it – and it effectively became a shopping mall. The upper level, which was supposed to contain another plaza with a large public garden, became an entertainment site containing a giant model of Noah’s ark, a Smurf village, a Bible city play area, and more.

While developers claim the enclosure of the structure was necessary because of the weather conditions, the appeals committee fully accepted the position of the appellant, the Council for a Beautiful Israel, which has offices in the adjacent building, stating: “It’s hard to find a visitor who can avoid seeing before him the entrance to a private shopping center, and would see a plaza instead.”

As to the Smurf village play area overlooking the Supreme Court, the panel declared: “This is a blatant example of how far the developer went in using the public space for his own needs while disregarding the sensitive surroundings.”

The ruling concludes: “We accept the appellant’s argument that the building permit was issued in 2014 contrary to the directives of the plans that apply, and therefore, contrary to the law as well. This verdict is a necessary outcome of each of the arguments that we accepted – the loss of the public nature of the plaza, the construction on the rooftops, the constraints on public access, the lack of gardening – contrary to the directives of the Kiryat Ha’Leom [government offices compound] plan, and the construction of a ceiling for the plaza without any support for this in the plan

"The result is that what we have is not another urban plaza but rather part of a private shopping and entertainment facility. This is particularly regretful given the location and importance of the plaza, which is situated between the Supreme Court, the Foreign Ministry, the state comptroller's offices, and the lot designated to be the site of the new Prime Minister’s Residence.”

Despite the ruling’s harsh wording, the committee decided not to order the immediate demolition of the rooftop followed by construction of the upper plaza, rather it will give the developers up to a year to tear the problematic section down – if the existing building plans are not altered by then.

However, the appeals body also stated clearly that this postponement is not to be seen as “an expression of support for rendering the current situation valid,” and added that “significant changes should be made to make the plaza accessible to the public and part of the public domain.”

The Jerusalem Municipality said in response: “The committee did not revoke the permits for Cinema City and the movie theaters, and did not find any flaw in them. The committee revoked the permit intended for the roof of the plaza and the Bible city complex. The municipality’s position is that issuance of the permits for the ceiling area and the Bible city complex comes under the authority of the city’s licensing authority. The committee’s decision gives the municipality and the developers a year to bring the matter up for re-approval.”

The Shapir Company responded thus: “Shapir is studying the appeals committee’s decision and considering what steps to take together with the operator of the site, the Cinema City Company. We wish to point out that the entire structure, every part of it, was built in accordance with the permits that were properly issued and approved by all the relevant authorities and with the full support of the Jerusalem Municipality. The entire complex is a cultural center for the enjoyment of all residents of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.”

The Cinema City repeated these sentiments: “The entire structure was built in accordance with permits that were properly issued and approved by all the relevant authorities and with the full backing of the Jerusalem Municipality.”