Jerusalem cinephiles can start celebrating: The last obstacle to the creation of the Sherover Center for Culture in the Abu Tor neighborhood has been removed. The center, to be built by the Gabriel Sherover Foundation, is set to double the number of movie theater seats in the capital and to nearly double the number of active movie screens. And unlike most cultural and entertainment institutions in Jerusalem, the center will be open on Shabbat.
After construction delays due to financial problems, the project was modified. Neighbors appealed to the District Planning and Building Committee against the changes, which included an expansion of the commercial space and movie theaters. Last week the committee rejected the neighbors' claims and gave the project the go-ahead.
In its ruling, the committee discussed issues of high and low culture, and whether movies can be called "culture." It rejected the petitioners' claim that a cinema complex could not be considered a cultural center - as defined in the project plans - as well as the implied argument that film is an "inferior" type of culture.
"Can one categorically say that theater is 'higher' culturally than film? Is the musical 'Unquiet Night' [based on songs by Shlomo Artzi] of higher cultural quality than the film 'Waltz with Bashir'?," the committee wrote.
The committee also determined that the petitioners were motivated by NIMBY (an acronym for "not in my backyard" considerations ).
"While we understand the petitioners ... they live in a city and a community, and the community needs such a center. Just as the petitioners benefit from Magen David Adom medical services, which operate in a building near the home of Rina Cohen and pose a nuisance to her, Ms. Cohen has the right to benefit from the cultural center located near the homes of the petitioners," the decision said.
The planned center will occupy an area of 13,000 square meters and include more than 10 movie theaters as well as galleries, a restaurant, cafe, stores, multipurpose auditoriums and an underground parking garage. The Sherover Foundation has promised that the stores will be of a cultural nature, selling books, music and design products, rather than "mall-like" retail establishments such as shoe and clothing stores.
The center is designed by the Jaffa firm of Kisselov-Kaye Architects, which won an invited competition for the project. It targets patrons in a broad age range from diverse communities, and is designed to provide a home to ongoing as well as frequently changing activities, including music, theater and movie workshops, as well as performances by the city's performing arts and design schools. A planned "festival street" is envisioned as the locus for large outdoor events, while new stores and cafes will form an extension of the existing adjacent Sherover Promenade.
"Our design provides great flexibility for activities at the site," architect Thea Kisselov explains. "We don't want to impose or control the activities that take place there, but rather to allow for maximum freedom," she said.
The center will join the Jerusalem Cinematheque, The Lab and other establishments as part of the municipality's cultural vision for the city. The Sherover Center is budgeted at NIS 120 million, and is expected to open within two years.
Mayor Nir Barkat and other city officials will attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the project on Tuesday.