Long known as a working class bedroom community, the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon has in recent years undergone a metamorphosis. The municipality has created a new image for Holon as a child-friendly place with a host of popular, family-oriented attractions aimed not just at locals but as a magnet for the young from all over Israel and overseas. The city is home to the Yamit Water Park, the Israeli Children’s Museum, and the Israeli Museum of Caricature and Comics, to name but a few of its offerings.
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Now it looks like Holon is reinventing itself yet again, this time as a home for the affluent. The focus of these efforts is a new neighborhood targeted to a very different group of residents than the young families that have flocked to Holon over the past decade. Indeed, it is not so much a neighborbood as a city in its own right situated within Holon’s municipal boundaries. Called Migdalim Bashdera (Towers on the Boulevard), or more commonly Het-501, when it is completed it will number 23 residential buildings, each between 14 and 26 stories high. The neighborhood is intended to serve as the city’s new urban center.
It completes a line of construction from the nearly completed Het-300 neighborhood. But if in Het-300 a new four-bedroom apartment sells for NIS 1.8 million to NIS 2 million, a similar apartment in Migdalim Bashdera will cost between NIS 2 million to NIS 2.3 million, making the prices in this new neighborhood closer to those of more upscale towns of Hod Hasharon or Rishon Letziyon West. The new neighborhood was born in the relatively rare urban planning measure that was undertaken by the Holon Municipality. At a time when many discussions are being held about reviving urban centers, in Holon they have decided to forgo rehabilitating the older parts of the town and its commercial center and build an entirely new one on an empty rectangular plot of 240 dunams that has been left undeveloped over the years even though it is adjacent to the city center. The plans for this land include constructing a new city hall along with several cultural and commercial centers, some of which have already been built.
But how did the city develop over the years around a massive empty piece of land? “They say it was the wisdom of one of the first mayors, who decided to first mark out the city’s territory and foresaw this land as a future city center,” says city engineer Mimi Peleg. “That’s the story, but I can’t say with confidence that it was done with any forethought.”
Whether the story behind the empty land is an urban legend or was part of policy, in the early 2000s the Holon Municipality decided the time to develop the new city center had come and began advancing plans for it. The French urban planner Jean-Paul Viguier planned a boulevard for the project between 40 and 60 meters wide heading north to south, including pedestrian walks, bicycle paths, playing fields, gardens and waterfalls. Rows of buildings are planned for both sides of the boulevard, with the eastern side having one row with seven buildings and the western side with two rows of 16 buildings. The axis along the length of the boulevard will be blocked to vehicular traffic and two roads will traverse it width-wise and connect it to the surrounding traffic. The boulevard will lead into a square planned to be the focal point of the new city center.
At present, the tenders for building the new municipality building are being written and construction on the building is expected to begin in another three years. A cultural complex near the Design Museum and the Holon Mediatheque south of the new neighborhood is also in the planning phase.
Quite a number of contractors are involved in the new neighborhood, including Aura, Nave, Levinstein Properties and Minrav Group, with all of them subject to mandatory architectural guidelines. “We created a mandatory building standard for all the boulevard’s buildings, including the type of stone and the character of the pergolas and balconies,” says Peleg.
Beyond the formal guidelines regarding exteriors, the contractors also have a tendency to meet each other's standards on internal accessories for the apartments so as not to fall behind the competition, says Claudine Kurtz, the sales manager for the Dunietz Brothers Limited’s Migdalim Bashdera project. “The moment one developer installs wall-mounted toilets, all the others offer them, too,” says Kurtz.
Kurtz says developers are also closing ranks when it comes to the high prices they are asking for the apartments, which is having a clear influence on the profile of the buyers. Those handling the apartment sales say that a sizable number of Holon residents are among the buyers, but most of them are not buying their first apartment, and the number of young couples among them is very low.
In effect, there appears to be a gentlemen’s agreement of sorts among developers not to offer prices below NIS 2 million for four-bedroom apartments. “From our perspective, this is the most expensive and high-quality neighborhood in Holon and we are cautious not to let prices fall to the level of Het-300,” says Kurtz.
“This neighborhood is drawing affluent people from Tel Aviv, Neve Monosson and Herzliya, who ordinarily wouldn’t consider Holon an option,” says Yair Einhorn, marketing vice president at developer I. Birenboyim.
According to those marketing the buildings, a sizable portion of buyers are empty-nester couples. With the Dunietz Brothers project, for example, a third of the buyers are pensioners.
The difficulties of young couples seeking to buy a new home are not new and stem from a declared municipal policy of attracting affluent residents to Holon who can purchase three-bedroom apartments or larger homes. “Most apartments in Holon are two bedrooms and 10 years ago, there almost weren’t any three- or four-bedroom apartments,” says Peleg. She says that for the city to raise the socieconomic status of its residents it must not offer housing that is lower than the quality on offer in Rishon Letzion, even if it means prices will be higher.