Atarim Square Redesign 'Only for the Strongest'

Projected upmarket residential towers contradict Tel Aviv municipality’s plan for heterogeneous city.

Tomer Appelbaum

Two weeks ago, plans were published to demolish Tel Aviv’s long-standing white elephant Atarim Square, near Hayarkon Street overlooking the beach, and build three pairs of prestigious residential and hotel towers between 25 and 40 stories high in its place. However, the city council has yet to discuss the plan, which contradicts the municipal master plan for the site.

The decisions of the Regional Planning and Building Committee regarding the renovation were posted on the Tel Aviv municipality’s Planning Administration website. A report by the city planner Ze’ev Amit also appears on the site, ostensibly published ahead of the final approval of the master plan.

According to Amit’s report, the owners of the businesses in Atarim Square and the Marina Hotel adjacent to it submitted objections to the city’s master plan and the 25-floor height restriction it contains.

“Since it was built in the 1970s, Atarim Square has become a safety and planning hazard,” wrote attorneys for the business owners, adding that the site’s 70 businesses “want to renew the whole complex, that is, destroy and rebuild a worthy project that will open Ben-Gurion Boulevard to the sea. For this purpose it is desirable to lift the prohibition against residential housing west of Hayarkon Street and lift the restriction on the number of stories in the complex so that at least 40 stories can be built.”

Amit accepted most of the objectors’ arguments, but limited the height of construction to 40 stories. “No one disputes the fact that changing the face of the complex is a worthy goal and the opportunities versus the risks should be studied in depth,” the report states. Therefore, the report continues that no specific recommendation should be made regarding the “exact mixture of residences, hotels and commercial use,” but rather that this recommendation should be left to a future, detailed report.

The spokeswomen for the Finance Ministry did not allow Haaretz to interview Amit.

“Although no elected official has seen this plan, decisions are being made by officials,” Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi (Meretz) told Haaretz. “The plan will be presented only in October and was to have exceeded the master plan, but someone spread a red carpet for it as if it conformed to the master plan, despite all our discussions of height limitations on the beach.”

Architect Yael Padan of the planning organization Bimkom said: “There is no problem with a master plan exceeding the rules that it sets in some cases. The problem begins when exceeding the plan is for the benefit of the strongest.”

Most people will not be able to afford to live in the planned residential towers, Padan said. “Only the richest will be able to live there. Constructing towers goes against the declared purpose of the plan – to create a heterogeneous city, a city for all its inhabitants.”