Jerusalem Planning Cluster of Highrises at Entrance to City

One of Jerusalem's problems is extreme paucity of commercial and employment space, even though one might think it has a lot because of the many government offices.

The Jerusalem city fathers are promoting an idea of building 13 high-rises at the entrance to the city.

"One of Jerusalem's problems is extreme paucity of commercial and employment space, even though one might think it has a lot because of the many government offices," says deputy mayor Yaakov Kahlon.

One idea to change that unhappy reality is to build a whole new neighborhood at the entrance to the city. At present the plan has the working (but not final ) name of Mevo Ha'Ir - "Gateway to the city", including 13 high-rises. The towers would be mainly earmarked for commerce and hotels: Only one of the 13 would be residential. All the towers would be erected around the entrance to the city.

One group of buildings would go up starting just after the entrance to the city by Highway 1 (from Tel Aviv ) and Santiago Calatrava's suspension bridge. Another five are planned in front of the International Convention Center, Binyanei Ha'Uma. Apropos of which, there is a plan to expand the ICC by 40,000 square meters. (Not by building more stories - there is more land there available for development. ) The new development would have space for conferences as well as commerce, according to the Jerusalem municipality's vision.

A group of four towers is planned near the Foreign Ministry complex, and also in the planning stage is a Cinema City complex in Jerusalem. The Cinema City complex has obtained a building permit. That cannot be said of the towers, which remain an idea on paper. Not one single tower's plan has so much as reached the attention of the local planning and building committee.

The four towers near the Foreign Ministry are to rise 24 stories into the sky and be between 60,000 and 80,000 square meters in area. Of the lot, these are at the most advanced stage of planning: Their construction could start as soon as two years' time. Two of these would be used for government offices, one for commerce and one for hotels.

Most of the land on which the city hopes to build belongs to the state, either to the Israel Lands Administration or the Jewish National Fund. The land on which three of the high-rises would sit is privately owned, by the Kaldash group and the Belilius group.

The land for one tower, the one nearest to the entrance to the city by Highway 1, belongs to Kaldash, a member of the Polar Investments group of companies. Two more towers, right next to the Kaldash one, would be built on a lot that used to house the government vehicle administration. Behind that are two towers (marked 4A and 4B ) to be built on land belonging to the Belilius group. One of the two towers slated to rise by the ICC center would be devoted to business. The other is earmarked for a hotel.

The overall plan for the towers is being handled by Farhi Zafrir Architects, which won a competition city hall held more than two years ago.

But don't think Jerusalem is only developing skyward - the architects have plans for subterranean development as well. Shazar Street would be turned into a two-story road, with a light rail passing on the top and the bottom devoted to a large underground parking lot for 1,300 cars: People coming into the city would park there for free and take public transportation to their destinations in the city.

Jerusalem has an employment zone, Har Hahotzvim, which is near the entrance to the city from the direction of Tel Aviv. It was erected mainly to house high-tech companies. But there is little construction for modern offices in the city proper, hence non-high tech firms have been seeking solutions in Har Hahotzvim as well.

Moreover, the whole concept of building skyward is alien to Jerusalem: it never did develop a city center featuring high-rises. There are a few tall office buildings scattered here and there in the city, such as in Malkha and in Har Hahotzvim, and Givat Shmuel. But high building isn't the rule.