The Rapid Rise and Fall of a Tel Aviv Celebrity Enclave

Adi Cohen
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High-rise buildings in the Park Tzameret area of Tel Aviv.
High-rise buildings in the Park Tzameret area of Tel Aviv.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Adi Cohen

For years, it was known as Givat Amal Bet, where Jewish refugees from Arab lands were housed in the state’s early years in rickety shacks. Then, 15 years ago, the shanties were razed, the area was renamed Park Tzameret and over the next decade it became chock-a-block with luxury high rises.

And not just any high rises. Fortuitously, among the first to be built at the site were the twin Yoo Towers, designed by superstar architect Philippe Starck. Celebrities rushed to buy apartments there and helped make the place a real estate hit in the Tel Aviv luxury market.

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Within a few years, 10 more high-rises and 1,500 luxury apartments followed. Even as the supply grew, prices in Park Tzameret doubled and even tripled, creating some of the most expensive residential real estate in Israel. The area’s glamorous image was boosted by its stellar residents, such as supermodel Bar Refaeli, singer Eyal Golan, comedian Eli Yatzpan, former basketball star Nikola Vujcic, stylist Miki Buganim, businessman Yitzhak Dankner, former Cellcom CEO Yitzhak Peterburg and billionaire diamond tycoon Beny Steinmetz.

But as quickly as Park Tzameret blossomed, it has faded no less quickly. Refaeli and Golan have moved out. Luxury high-rises that have gone up elsewhere in the city have emptied Park Tzameret of much of its ritzy clientele, demand fizzled and prices began declining to levels equal to or below those for apartments in the adjacent older neighborhoods.

But as much as Park Tzameret is a lesson in how fluid celebrity is, it’s also a tale of poor urban planning.

Today, according to the Madlan real estate website, the average price per square meter in Park Tzameret is 38,000 shekels ($11,800). In the adjacent Bavli neighborhood, prices in older buildings run at 43,400 shekels, while in the neighborhood’s new towers they can reach 55,000 to 60,000. Units in older buildings in Kikar Hamedina, on the other side of Park Tzameret, are selling for 47,900 shekels.

“In terms of price and location, Park Tzameret is at the low end of the local luxury market. Unlike the figures from Madlan and the Tax Authority, my sense from the field is that the average price here is actually between 42,000-45,000 shekels per square meter,” says Ben Ben Dahan of Homeland Real Estate, which markets properties in the area. ”There are some sales in the 35,000-38,000 shekels per square meter range, but those are usually on low floors or units that are somewhat run down.”

Shorn of its celebrity glamor, the area is now judged by its less-than-perfect location. Tucked between the Ayalon Freeway and Namir Boulevard, Park Tzameret is cut off from the city. It’s relatively far from the center of town and from the sea, which impacts on prices.

Ben Dahan says that in the last few years, the lower prices have been drawing more young families to the complex. There are also retirees and older folks who sold their villas in Savyon or Herzliya to enjoy city life after their kids left home. “For them, Park Tzameret is almost like luxury assisted-living,” he says.

“Most of the people at the top socioeconomic level who say they live here don’t really live here – they own properties here that they rent out.”

People walk between buildings in the Park Tzameret area of Tel Aviv.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Prices began topping out about three years ago. Prices didn’t fall, but they remained static, one reason being the drop-off in buying by property investors and foreigners after then-Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon raised taxes on investment homes and the banks tightened mortgage requirements. Until then, investors and foreign buyers accounted for at least 70% of the apartments being bought, estimates Ben Dahan.

Blow from Bavli

The real blow came when homes in the new Park Bavli development created stiff competition. “The buildings are newer, and the standard and level of finish there are higher,” says Ben Dahan. “In terms of image, too, Tel Aviv old-timers tend to think of Bavli as a desirable neighborhood that sits on the park and is connected to the city, while for years Park Tzameret had to fight the image of being cut off, not fully a part of Tel Aviv.”

Ben Dahan begs to differ and describes Park Tzameret as a real neighborhood. “It really is a much younger and more communal neighborhood than what you might think when you see the towers from the highway – but you still run into Tel Aviv buyers who have this image of it.”

Ben Dahan says another problem is that Park Tzameret has aged, even though most of the apartments are less than a decade old.

“Park Tzameret towers were built as luxury high-rises, but they’re built by the 2009 standard,” he says. “One thing that’s really hurt is that many of the owners didn’t grasp the changing reality and over the years they didn’t invest in the units, in renovations or upkeep. That applies to at least 50% of the apartments in the area, which are no longer perceived as luxury apartments but as basic apartments in luxury projects. The result is that people with a big budget and looking for a luxury residence in the area will set their sights on the standard of the projects across the way.”

Some say Park Tzameret’s decline holds an important lesson in urban planning.

“The Park Tzameret complex is a prime example of anti-urbanism. There’s no urban or street fabric, just buildings planted on one big asphalt surface,” says architect Naama Malis. “Ultimately, people who choose to live in a city are looking for the shared energy of the street, the sociability, the mosaic and variety. This also holds true even when you live in an ivory tower. In Park Tzameret, however, there’s a sense of alienation and detachment from the Tel Aviv experience and from the city. I think that over the years, people came to realize how lacking this was, and the prices there prove it.”

Besides a design that’s so heavy on concrete and asphalt, the complex’s disconnection from the city also hurt it, many believe. “In the end, the Park Tzameret neighborhood is disconnected and isolated from the city, physically and symbolically,” says architect Yossi Sivan, a partner in Moore Yaski Sivan Architects, who oversaw planning of four of the area’s luxury towers.

Park Tzameret, he notes, is surrounded by major transportation arteries and going by foot to adjacent areas is unpleasant and difficult. “Even within the neighborhood, it’s not that pleasant to walk around – and not much reason to either. To add to the feeling, they built another hill to block out noise that flanks the neighborhood alongside Namir Boulevard, and that cuts it off even more and creates the feeling of being in a fortress,” says Sivan.

He admits that the new buildings in Bavli may also be disconnected from the city, but they link to a larger, homogeneous, lively neighborhood with people and commercial activity and interesting things around. “If they would have included shops on the ground level of the Tzameret towers, or expanded the development towards the nearby train station, maybe it could have been saved.”

Buildings in Tel Aviv's Park Tzameret area. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Sivan doesn’t blame poor or faulty planning, but rather a shift in approach. “The planning philosophy that prevailed at the time when Park Tzameret was built was very different from what it is today,” he says. “At the time, the planning was based on a separation of uses between residence, employment and retail – and the neighborhood was built on this basis. Only in recent years has there been a greater understanding of the importance of blending uses to create spaces that are more urban, less cold and more alive.”

Tami Gavrieli, former head of strategic planning for the Tel Aviv Municipality, shares Sivan’s view. “I’m certain that if they were to plan Park Tzameret today, it would look different. The current complex is a result of the planning philosophies of the 1980s and 1990s, which are less accepted and less relevant today,” she says.

In any case, the original plan was quite different from what it became. The terms “towers” and “luxury” were absent; the end result was largely a function of pressure from the developers.

Dashed vision

“From the municipality’s point of view, too, you could say that what’s there today doesn’t exactly fit the original vision of the place,” Gavrieli says.

For years, she says, the city tried to promote different building plans that would have lent it a character similar to the low-rise construction in the city center and the adjacent areas.

“However, it was always clear to everyone that this was a problematic neighborhood, trapped between Namir Boulevard and the Ayalon Freeway, so it was hard to attract interest in it. For a long time, the plan went nowhere,” she explains. “In the 1990s, developers finally began to realize the site’s hidden potential and promoted a new plan there, with increased building rights for towers.”

The dizzying success of the luxury towers that have been added to Tel Aviv’s borders and planted in the heart of the city’s streets in recent years also reflects the market preferences to some degree. “Unlike the case with Park Tzameret, when someone chooses a luxury property on Rothschild, Arlozorov or Neve Tzedek, he’s not compromising on the urban experience. He’ll still get to enjoy the street life, the city squares, the interesting goings-on,” Malis says. “It’s a basic need we have as people, and just because people have the money to buy luxury apartments, that doesn’t make them different as far as that goes. It doesn’t change this basic need.”

Unlike Ben Dahan, realtor Shira Malkes of Yehonatan Luxury Properties insists that Park Tzameret has not lost any of its prestige.

“Prices of apartments in Park Tzameret are only going up, and it’s a bubble that’s not bursting,” she says. “Yes, the buildings here are not as new as the ones in Park Bavli nearby, where the demand is very high, because of the park [Hayarkon], and the schools and preschools. But Park Tzameret has its own advantages,” says Malkes.

She cites the nearby G-Mall, a rich social life, excellent services and playgrounds. “There’s also the convenience of the location, just a minute from the Ayalon Freeway, and a few minutes’ walk from the north Tel Aviv neighborhoods and Kikar Hamedina.

“I’m a neighborhood resident myself, and I really love living here. The New York style of the towers, the accessibility of everything, the feeling that you don’t need to leave the neighborhood – I feel like I’m in America here,” Malkes says.

And what do the residents say?

“The people who live in the complex are people who get up in the morning and race ahead,” says attorney Eldan Danino, 33, an expert in workplace safety laws, who lives in one of the Park Tzameret towers. “They’re the top executives, tomorrow’s big success stories. Whoever comes here just to be showy won’t stay long. The rent and the management fees are quite steep, after all. To afford it you really have to be financially stable and successful. The atmosphere here is business-oriented – and there’s something about it that’s infectious and pushes you ahead. I don’t think you could say that about any other neighborhood in Tel Aviv or all of Israel.”

In contrast to the urban planners, Danino maintains that the complex’s separateness is actually one of its advantages.

“Before I came here, I lived for a few years in the Old North neighborhood. There you might really feel the Tel Aviv life and have everything in walking distance, but in the end I was surrounded by college students, apartments shared by roommates and people who were basically there to experience the city,” he says.

“In Tzameret, there’s a different atmosphere, and for me the disconnect from the city is part of the beauty of the neighborhood. Like an enchanted isolated enclave that’s still close to everything. The quality of life here is good, the location is convenient and it definitely makes a good impression bringing clients here,” Danino says. “Even though the prices here are lower than in other luxury towers in the city, there’s something about this complex that still makes it a status symbol.”

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