Watchdog Investigating Irregularities in Building Jerusalem Cinema City

Mayor Nir Barkat asked to provide answers for cinema complex by state comptroller.

Emil Salman

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has opened an investigation into the building violations in the new Cinema City complex in Jerusalem. Shapira, a retired judge, officially asked the capital’s mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday to meet with him to provide explanations to his inquiries on the matter.

The Cinema City complex is located across from the Supreme Court building on Yitzhak Rabin Boulevard and near other major government institutions such as the Knesset. The complex has aroused quite a bit of criticism on the part of architects, planning bodies and even Supreme Court justices.

The complex includes a large commercial center with 15 movie theaters, a Bible museum and various other attractions for children such as the Smurf Village and “Noah’s Ark”. The critics say the complex was built without the planning authorities having intended to allow such a complex in the capital at that location. Originally, a huge parking lot was built on the site, which was intended to serve visitors to the government offices nearby. It also had a large public square that served as a sort of entrance to the Supreme Court. But it turned out very quickly that there was little need for so many parking spots and the square remained vacant. The Shapir company, which built the National Parking Lot (Hanyon Haleom) originally, proposed altering the parking lot and turning it into a movie theater and expanding the small shopping center in the square into a major commercial center.

Later on, other planning changes and easements were also approved, such as the construction of domes covering the square and increasing the shopping area even further. The planning committees retroactively approved construction beyond even this expanded plan.

The nonprofit Council for a Beautiful Israel recently asked the State Comptroller to investigate the events leading up to the construction of the complex and its approval. The Council is also building a structure in the area which will serve as its educational center in Jerusalem. The organization said areas it had been promised by the previous mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupolianski were taken away from it. It appears Shapira decided to open his investigation as a result of the complaint.

“It is strange and sad, said Ada Karmi-Melamede, the architect who designed the Supreme Court building. “The Cinema City building causes the Supreme Court building to look like a little branch. This seems to reflect where we are culturally and Israel’s relationship to its national institutions.”

After Cinema City was opened, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis ordered the bridge that connects the two buildings to be closed. Direct passage between the two buildings has been blocked since then.

“Everyone needs to cry out about what they are doing to the court,” a senior official in the courts system told Haaretz. “There are buildings here that have no connection between them - a government building with all its symbolism, which is being connected to a shopping center. The Supreme Court has a symbolic value we want to preserve. The fact that it is connected by a bridge to such a building, which even overshadows it in height, is simply inappropriate and grating,” he said.

Barkat’s office said: “The State Comptroller visited to coordinate a meeting with the mayor to discuss a complaint on construction irregularities for the National Square. It should be noted that all the work there was conducted according to permits and according to the master plan that applies to the location and there are no irregularities. The mayor will be happy to meet with the Comptroller and present the matter to him.”

Cinema City said it only operates in accordance with the law and has received the necessary approval, while fully cooperating with the Jerusalem municipality and the Finance Ministry, which owns the land.

Shapir, the developer of the project, said: “The changes that occurred in the National Parking Lot project, which is owned by the state, turned it into a lively center that serves the residents of Jerusalem and the region and all the tourists who come to the city. All the changes in the project were approved by all the authorized bodies.”