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Iconic central Jerusalem building used as homeless shelter sold for $50m

Jerusalem municipality sells historic ‘Katzin Ha’Ir’ site to French Jewish businessman for commercial development

The Katsin Ha'Ir building in Jerusalem, in use as a homeless shelter, September 2022. (Yisrael Cohen)
The Katsin Ha'Ir building in Jerusalem, in use as a homeless shelter, September 2022. (Yisrael Cohen)

A largely abandoned building in central Jerusalem that has served partially as an informal homeless shelter in the Israeli capital for three years has been sold to a developer for NIS 180 million ($50 million).

French Jewish businessman Laurent Levy bid NIS 28 million ($8 million) higher than the next offer, and will take on the redevelopment of the 2,932-square-meter (31,560-square-feet) site at 27 Hillel Street, also known as Katzin Ha’Ir, from the Israel Land Authority.

Residential prices in the area are some of the highest in the city, at more than NIS 60,000 (almost $17,000) per square meter, according to Hebrew business site Calcalist.

Levy came to Israel to live with his family in 2005. He bought and subsequently opened the nearby Kikar HaMusika (Music Square) in 2014, and he has continued to develop new businesses within that downtown Jerusalem area, including a French patisserie, restaurants and creating a band to play in the space. His future plans include hotels in Jerusalem and the Galilee, and continuing development of his international optical business from which he made his fortune.

The building he has purchased is considered a historic conservation site. Israel Land Authority’s conditions of sale for this unique property include preserving the building and reserving 462 square meters (4,973 square feet) for cultural and leisure activities.

Laurent Levy (Youtube/KLManagment)

In addition, there must be an underground parking lot, and the public space area must be developed and furnished by Levy and then handed back to the Jerusalem municipality when completed.

Up until 2015, Katzin Ha’Ir was home to a center operated by the Israel Defense Forces, as part of the national and now-defunct program (called Katzin Ha’ir), to provide various services to soldiers and reservists outside their military bases. These services included mental health support and treatment, legal assistance and temporary residence during compulsory service.

Built in 1886, at the instigation of a monk and the Palestinian Association of Catholics in Germany, the building served as an all-girls boarding school until the mid-1940s. It is considered a historic conservation site.

For the last three years, as The Times of Israel has reported, the Katzin Ha’Ir building has been used as a homeless shelter, under the leadership of Yisrael Cohen, who experienced life on the streets as a teen. As a result of the sale by the Israel Land Authority, Cohen has been given notice to quit and close down the shelter.

Since ToI publicized his story, members of the Jerusalem City Council have come forward to volunteer their help to either assist Cohen in staying in the building until work starts, or help him to relocate his operation.

There is a significant homeless population in Jerusalem and a city support program to help them, but there are very few shelters, and a waiting list for most of those that exist.

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