Jerusalem Officials Plan Ferris Wheel on Promenade Overlooking Old City, Despite Objections of Walkway Donors

Those who oppose the plan say it will destroy the city’s appearance; an archaeologists’ organization calls it ‘another megalomaniac and offensive project’

Nir Hasson
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The Armon Hanatziv Promenade in 2018.
The Armon Hanatziv Promenade in 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem municipality wants to install a Ferris wheel on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade, overlooking the Old City. If approved, the giant wheel would be an addition to the list of tourist attractions that are slated for the city. They include a cable car to the Western Wall, a zipline and a pedestrian suspension bridge.

The families whose donations built the promenade are against the plan, as are archaeologist groups and city council members, who say these projects will destroy the appearance of the historic city.

The Ferris wheel is being planned in cooperation with the Jerusalem Development Authority as part of a comprehensive plan to renovate the promenade and add a sculpture garden, bicycle paths, a music center and more eating options at the site. Six hotels are planned across the road from the walkway.

“Movement in the space will be accompanied by centers of varied and changing activities that appeal to a broad audience and to the entire family,” touts a presentation created to sell the idea. “The activity will fascinate the visitors and generate interest in frequent repeat visits.”

The Ferris wheel, which will be installed in the western part of the boardwalk, is projected to be between 40 and 60 meters high – comparable to the Wonder Wheel in New York City’s Coney Island, and very modest compared to the 135-meter-high London Eye. City officials say it will not obscure the view of the Old City from the promenade itself and will be built so that it can be removed during the low season for tourism. A feasibility study was conducted around six months ago, and a company has been hired to draw up plans.

In the same general area, the right-wing nonprofit organization Elad, which operates the Ir David National Park in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, has begun developing a new visitors center in Beit Schatz, a historic building. When completed, the center will expand the sphere of influence of the organization, which currently operates mainly in Silwan.

Elad is also planning a zipline (known as “omega” in Hebrew) between the Armon Hanatziv Promenade and the Peace Forest below it, as well as a suspension bridge for pedestrians high above the Ben Hinnom Valley in the western part of the so-called historic basin of the Old City. The cable car to the Old City is also expected to transverse this area. The High Court of Justice heard petitions against the cable car around two weeks ago, but has not yet issued a ruling.

Illustration of the cable car crossing over the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Illustration of the cable car crossing over the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Among the opponents of the Ferris wheel and other changes planned for the promenade are the heirs of the Haas and Goldman families, who gave the money that built the walkway in the 1980s. 

In a statement, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, the heirs wrote: “As descendants of Richard and Rhoda Goldman (our parents) and Walter and Elise Haas (our grandparents), and as their representatives for the Goldman and Haas Promenades, we were surprised and extremely disappointed to learn of the proposed plans for "revamping" of the Promenades and vicinity, thereby changing their essential nature, as part of plans related to the nearby hotel complex.

“These plans include construction of the Beit Schatz Visitors Center - currently underway – and additional amusement park attractions that have been designed, approved, and budgeted. These inappropriate projects include a Ferris wheel and an 800-meter zip line that would extend to the Peace Forest below, all of which would be an assault on a landscape masterfully designed by world-renowned architects to offer spectacular views that allow for a reflective experience of history within a calm and quiet setting.  They are also in direct contradiction to the spirit of our family's generous gift and agreements entered into with The Jerusalem Foundation and The Jerusalem Municipality to preserve and protect the Promenades as a tranquil, multicultural peace park,” the statement read.

The Armon Hanatziv Promenade in 2018.
The Armon Hanatziv Promenade in 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

“Objectionable and unacceptable in the best of times, it is unfathomable that at a time when the Israeli tourism industry is suffering what appears to be long-term devastation, the Ministry of Tourism and the Municipality, via the Jerusalem Development Authority, deem it appropriate to go ahead with their plans to invest significant public funding in such frivolous attractions.” 

Emek Shaveh, a nonprofit organization of archaeologists associated with the left wing, expressed opposition to the plan, saying in a written statement: “It seems that there is someone in the Jerusalem municipality who thinks that Jerusalem, its antiquities and its ancient landscapes cannot stand on their own and require mediators. After the suspension bridge in the Ben Hinnom Valley and the cable car to the Old City, another megalomaniac and offensive project has come to the historic city.”

Laura Wharton, a city council member representing the Meretz party, added that “The area of the holy basin must be preserved and our footprint must be minimized as much as possible. People don’t come to Jerusalem to see a Ferris wheel or for an amusement park. This plan joins other plans that are exceedingly destructive.”

In a written response, the municipality said that it was advancing a plan to develop and renew the promenade area together with the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry. “This plan consists of the Sherover Promenade, the Haas Promenade and the Goldman Promenade. The purpose of the plan is to renew the promenades, which are near the future hotels, to upgrade the tourist experience and to develop the area as a center of leisure and entertainment for both tourists and residents of the city. The plan examines a wide variety of activities out of the goal of turning the promenades into a significant center of culture, entertainment and leisure in the city.”

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