Despite Activists' Objections, Tel Aviv Approves Campus for Dance Troupe in Southern Part of City

Decision is part of a series of moves the municipality is advancing that will force neighborhood’s weaker populations having to leave, local activist says

An illustration of the new complex to be build for the Batsheva Dance Company in southern Tel Aviv, Israel.

The Tel Aviv municipal planning committee unanimously approved Wednesday a plan to build a new complex for the Batsheva Dance Company in south Tel aviv, despite the objections of local activists.

The complex, to be located in the city’s former central bus station in south Tel Aviv, will include an international dance center, a theater, a movie hall and a multipurpose cellar. The roof will hold an open-air movie theater, and a large public plaza will be built outside the compound. The troupe itself will occupy the complex for only one third of the year.

However, the city has yet to formally allocate the property to Batsheva. That decision will be made at a separate meeting of the city council with the attendance of all of its members.

Moreover, the complex is slated to be part of a broader plan that will include residential and office towers, which is yet to undergo the approval process.

At Wednesday’s hearing, city officials said they’re seeking to get a center for Sephardi and Mizrahi culture added to the complex, referring to Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent. The center, if established, would be able to hold activities in all the compound’s facilities.

The complex was designed by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, Israeli architect Miko Arditty of GAB Architects and landscape architect Lital Szmuk Fabian of Tema – Urban Landscape Design.

Deputy Mayor Assaf Harel welcomed the planning committee’s decision, saying Batsheva’s international stature entitled it to its own building. “This is an important project in a strategic location,” he added.

Nevertheless, several local activists opposed the decision. Shula Keshet, a city councilwoman who lives in south Tel Aviv, said none of the problems with the project had been resolved since the previous planning committee discussion in July 2018. She also accused the municipality of ignoring local residents.

Keshet passed out copies of an opinion piece written by Sharon Rotbard, an architect who lives in south Tel Aviv. Rotbard argued that the planning process was flawed because the plan for the compound’s design was approved before the land was allocated to Batsheva.

Dafna Lichtman, another south Tel Aviv resident who runs the Garden Library for asylum seekers in Levinsky Park, accused the city of ignoring community’s needs by giving the land to Batsheva.

“Some 3,000 refugee children who live there have no high school to go to,” she said. “Where will they study? This was the last reserve of public premises.”

The Batsheva complex “is part of a series of moves the municipality is advancing in the area that will result in all the neighborhood’s weaker populations having to leave,” she added. “On Khazanovich Street, not far from the complex, apartments are already renting for 7,000 shekels ($1,960),” a month.

The compound will be jointly funded by the municipality and a group of donors recruited by Batsheva, with each side expected to donate 70 million shekels.

Eli Levy, who heads the municipality's real estate department, said the municipality hasn’t yet signed a contract with Batsheva. However, the Tel Aviv Foundation signed a contract with the troupe in December 2017, which hasn’t been made public. That contract covered Batsheva’s commitment to raise half the money needed for construction plus four million shekels to cover planning costs.

“In other words, back in December 2017, the Tel Aviv municipality transferred the area of the old central bus station to the Batsheva dance troupe for an amount, or an advance, of four million shekels,” Rotbard charged.

Asked why the planning committee approved the plan before the city council has allocated the land to Batsheva, the municipality replied that with a project of this scale, it’s customary to first examine the economic feasibility and donors’ willingness to cover the costs, hence the agreement between the Tel Aviv Foundation and Batsheva. It’s also usual to make sure there’s a feasible design in place before allocating land for a project, it said.

As for the claim that local residents were ignored, the municipality said in response: “It was agreed upon that the building will not only serve the Batsheva dance troupe, but also serve as a cultural and community center for activities for residents.”

The overall plan, which includes the residential and office towers, was devised in cooperation with the residents, who will also have a chance to submit objections to that plan at a later stage of the approval process, the municipality added.

Furthermore, the city did consider turning the premises into a school, but found them unsuitable for that purpose, therefore deciding instead to make the former Shevach Mofet school building into a school for local residents, according to the municipality.