Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz are set to attend a cornerstone-laying ceremony on Wednesday evening for a new business district at the entrance to Jerusalem, flagged as a “game-changer” for the nation’s capital and one of the most prominent business projects in the country.

“This project we are initiating is a game-changer for Jerusalem. It is the biggest, most significant and essential project for the future of the city,” said Barkat in an emailed statement to The Times of Israel. “Jerusalem after the completion of this new business district will be different from before,” transformed from a city with stalled economic growth and a declining population to “an attractive city for young people,” competitive and empowered.

With an investment of NIS 1.4 billion (approximately $364 million) by the government and the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem Gateway project district will spread out over an area of approximately 700,000 square meters (173 acres), starting from the Chords Bridge that greets visitors at the entrance to the city and leading to a renovated Binyanei Ha’uma – International Convention Center and right up to Ben Zvi Boulevard, where the popular Ima restaurant is located.

“The project is huge and will create an area that will be completely integrated with the rest of the city and throbbing with cultural and commercial activities during the day and the night,” Lior Grunhaus, a vice president of Eden, the municipal company that is managing the project, said in an interview. “Today the entrance to Jerusalem is peppered with empty parking lots and bus lots that are not what you’d like to see entering the capital of the country.”

Illustration of underground street in the Jerusalem Gateway project (Dagan Advanced Visual Solutions)

Illustration of street in the Jerusalem Gateway project (Dagan Advanced Visual Solutions)

The approved master plan for the area, developed for the municipality by Israel’s Farhi Zafrir Architects, envisages 24 new office buildings, nine of which are 36-floor skyscrapers, with 60,000 square meters of commercial space, business centers, hotels, and 70,000 square meters of leisure and cultural spaces. This is to be connected to the rest of the city via new walking and cycling paths and two light railway lines.

“We are now working on the urban and landscape plans to make sure the essence of Jerusalem is preserved,” Grunhaus said. “We are investing a lot of money and time in planning the cycling and walking routes, to ensure that people will be able to pleasantly walk from the district to the city center and the old city.”

The construction of the district has been pushed for by Barkat with the support of Israel’s finance and transportation ministries, which have been also actively involved in both financing and managing the progress of the project, a source familiar with the project said. This emphasizes the government’s commitment to the city of Jerusalem, the source said.

Once the fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will be up and running — forecast for spring 2018 — the district will be just 28 minutes away from Tel Aviv and linked to the rest of Jerusalem by two light rail channels – the existing red line and a planned green line, Grunhaus said. With the public and private public transit routes and private and public areas for pedestrians, the new district also aims to become the largest integrated transportation hub in Israel.

Illustration of underground street in the Jerusalem Gateway project (Dagan Advanced Visual Solutions)

Illustration of underground street in the Jerusalem Gateway project (Dagan Advanced Visual Solutions)

High-tech and financial firms have already expressed an interest in renting spaces in the project, Grunhaus said. “They understand the importance of a center that will be just 28 minutes away from Tel Aviv, which they will be able to reach without sitting in traffic jams.”

The district is expected to add some 40,000 new jobs in the capital and alleviate the acute shortage of office space the city is experiencing. “We currently have a 95 percent office occupancy rate in Jerusalem,” Grunhaus said.

Cars entering Jerusalem from Route 1 will be channeled to an underground tunnel to progress toward the rest of the city, with the upper levels used for open spaces, pedestrians and some hop-on and drop-off buses and cars and the light railway. There will be also some 1,300 new parking spaces in the area.

As part of this project, the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Hauma) will be expanded and renovated — transforming the center into the largest convention center in the Middle East.

The German architectural firm Topotek1 was recently chosen via an international architectural competition to lead the urban and landscape planning. The project will be implemented in stages, with the first buildings expected to be completed in three to four years, Grunhaus said.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat July 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat July 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The ground-breaking ceremony held by Barkat will also be attended by the minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, Ze’ev Elkin, on Wednesday evening at Shazar Boulevard at the entrance to Jerusalem.