Building Toward the Heavens

The luxury housing market has created a demand for high-rises in Jerusalem, and they are slowly changing the skyline of the holy city.

The Safdie plan for western Jerusalem is only one of the revolutionary changes facing the capital. Another turning point occurred about 10 years ago, when then-mayor Ehud Olmert decided to lift a ban and allow the construction of towers throughout the city. Since then some 50 plans for residential towers have been submitted to the planning and building committee. Most have yet to be approved, but some have reached the marketing or construction stage.

This was a real revolution in the city's planning. When Teddy Kollek was mayor, the city restricted buildings to eight stories, with a few exceptions, such as the capital's first luxury residential towers - the Jerusalem Towers - which were built by Dankner-Pritzker about 12 years ago. As for the rest, conventional wisdom was that towers and Jerusalemites do not go together, and the building policy was quite inflexible.

"An initial survey we conducted found Jerusalemites indeed shy away from towers and tall buildings," relates Avi Hakimi, manager of the Holyland project in Bayit Vegan, "although this attitude has changed in recent years - wealthy Jerusalemites are now among the buyers of apartments in tall buildings."

Still, the deciding factor is ultimately neither the preference of the Jerusalemites nor planning considerations, but rather pressure from developers, who report growing demand for residential towers in the capital. The "anti-tower population" has not proffered a planning alternative to building upward. Thus, when Olmert replaced Kollek, the low skyline policy gradually eroded and towers began dotting the city.

Designed for foreigners

"There are three reasons why upward construction and luxury towers have reached Jerusalem, too," explains Shlomo Grofman, chairman of the FAIRE Fund (First American Israel Real Estate). These are "the spiraling cost of land in Jerusalem, the demand that the Israeli capital meet modern metropolitan standards while retaining its unique holy character, and the entry of overseas buyers."

FAIRE is the developer behind the luxury Mishkenot Hadar project.

"Still, the apartments in the first towers were not purchased by foreign residents only," says Zohar Kaplan, former marketing vice president for Dankner Investments. "When we marketed the apartments, back in the 1990s, most of the buyers were actually Jerusalemites."

Until recently, there was practically no foreign demand for the Holyland Project, being built by Kardan Real Estate Enterprise and Development and Polar Investments in the south of the city, and most of the buyers were Jerusalemites. This changed when the marketing of Holyland Tower began. Now, more foreign residents have shown an interest.

Lately, foreigners have dominated nearly the entire luxury real estate market in Jerusalem, leading to a rise in prices. Whereas high-end apartments sold for $4,000-$6,000 per square meter in the 1990s, today's prices are usually tens of percentage points higher.

"It is true that foreign residents love Jerusalem's special character, with its authentic Jewish flavor, but they are also interested in a luxury apartment with an opulent lobby, 24-hour security and all of life's extras, just like in their home countries," says market reviewer and editor of the apartment price list, Levy Yitzhak. "They can find these in the luxury towers."

As a result, almost all the towers currently being planned or marketed in the city are designed for foreign residents.

"One could say the builders of the luxury towers are striving to provide the perfect package for religious Jews, particularly from abroad," says Alyssa Friedland, vice president of RE/MAX Vision. "Their demands are very high, down to the finest detail. The towers have Shabbat elevators, sukkah balconies, fitness rooms and an ornate lobby, all in keeping with the standards of foreign residents."

Yoram Schechter, one of the developers of the Jerusalem of Gold project, illustrates this situation while describing how much of the developers' and planners' time the sukkah balconies consumed.

"We didn't want to build a luxury tower with balconies that would mar its facade," explains Schechter. "We finally found a solution in a kind of additional external wall, which makes the balconies more aesthetic."

Holyland Tower

Special feature: Foreign residents comprise 30 percent of buyers

Developers: Kardan Real Estate and Polar Real Estate

General: Located in the center of the Holyland Project, in the south of the capital. Will consist of 143 apartments of two to five rooms, plus six-room penthouses. An additional tower is in the planning stages. The tower's foundations are currently being dug. The project is in the marketing stage, and has not yet received its final permits.

Target occupancy date: 2009

Height: 32 stories

Price: $4,000-$8,000 per square meter

Additional notes: "So far 30 of the apartments have been sold," says project manager Avi Hakimi. "Initially there was little demand from foreign residents, due to the location, but lately interest has picked up."

Mishkenot Hadar

Special feature: A view of the Old City

Developers: FAIRE Fund

General: Multi-story building on Rabbi Akiva Street in downtown Jerusalem, alongside a building slated for preservation that is being marketed as part of the project. Marketing has been completed.

Target occupancy date: October 2007

Height: 9 stories

Price: $7,000-$8,000 per square meter

Additional notes: "There is almost no tall construction in the older neighborhoods in the heart of the city," explains FAIRE chairman Shlomo Grofman. "The urban landscape in these areas includes low construction of four to five stories, so this tower offers buyers a view of the Old City."

Ganei Zion

Special feature: The first new housing project in the Katamon neighborhood in 50 years

Developers: Hassid Bros. Construction

General: The tower is part of a project in a 10-dunam compound on Eliezer Hagadol Street in Katamon. The tower will contain 90 apartments of four to six rooms (four rooms covering 130 square meters, or five rooms covering 168 square meters, for example). The plans have been approved and foundation work has begun, but the final permit has not yet been granted.

Target occupancy date: Late 2009

Height: 18 stories

Price: $4,500-$5,000 per square meter

Additional notes: The penthouse apartments will have four-meter ceilings and the tower will have a private pool and a separate, direct elevator to the penthouse.

Jerusalem of Gold

Developers: Shlomo Eliahu and Yoram Schechter

General: The two-stage project on Rabbi Akiva Street in the city center consists of about 200 apartments. The project is under construction.

Target occupancy date: 2009

Height: First tower - 12 stories; second tower - 24 stories

Price: $6,500-$15,000 per square meter

Additional notes: "This project has been planned with special emphasis on the buyers' needs, and for this reason took 10 years to obtain approval from the city engineer," says Schechter. The project will include a swimming pool, a four-story lobby, a ritual bath, a business club and function halls for the residents.

Minrav Jerusalem

Developers: Minrav Engineering and Construction, controlled by Avraham Kuznitsky

General: A project in the city center, close to the Nevi'im-Strauss-Jaffa Road intersection, on a compound known as Gush 50, which is designated for urban renewal. Consists of three- to five-room apartments and is currently in the marketing stage, and has not yet received final permits.

Target occupancy date: 2008

Height: 11 stories

Price: $5,000 per square meter

Additional notes: This is the first project in Gush 50, adjacent to the future Jerusalem light rail line and relatively close to the Old City. Eleven apartments have already been sold.

Keter David

Developers: Isras-Rasco

General: This project has several stages, for a total of about 200 apartments. The first 100 apartments, of stages one and two, are being marketed. The project will be built on the YMCA compound between King David, Lincoln and Washington streets.

Target occupancy date: Stage one - 2008

Height: Up to seven stories

Price: $6,500-$10,000 per square meter

Additional notes: Unique location - opposite the historical King David Hotel, close to all the important places in the city and right next to the YMCA sports center.

Jerusalem Towers

Special feature: Jerusalem's first residential towers

Developers: Dankner Investments and Prizker Enterprises

General: The first luxury towers to be built in Jerusalem, on Mevo Hamatmid Street, about 12 years ago. Three towers totaling 113 apartments of two to five rooms, plus penthouses. Marketing was completed four years ago.

Height: 15, 17 and 19 stories

Price: (During marketing, in the 1990s) $4,000-$6,000 per square meter

Additional notes: Back then those prices seemed very high, and they are not low today, either. The penthouses fetched upwards of $1 million. On the other hand, these are significantly lower than today's market prices.