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Tel Aviv residents bash new development plans for city’s Brutalist Atarim plaza

Critics argue proposed project hands public space to private developers who hope to build two 25-story towers and a six-story building for mixed residential, hotel space

A rendering of development plans for the Kikar Atarim area in Tel Aviv, proposed in a presentation to the Tel Aviv Municipality in January 2022. (Screenshot via the Tel Aviv Municipality website, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A rendering of development plans for the Kikar Atarim area in Tel Aviv, proposed in a presentation to the Tel Aviv Municipality in January 2022. (Screenshot via the Tel Aviv Municipality website, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Tel Aviv business owners and some 400 residents filed their objections with the municipality this month over a proposed development project for the city’s Atarim Square (Kikar Atarim), an area that includes public space and a complex of buildings right on the seafront that has been largely neglected for years.

Plans for the future of the area, which connects Ben Gurion Boulevard to the Tel Aviv promenade by way of a large plaza and a vast stone stairway, have been under discussion for at least the past decade. The latest development plans were approved for consideration by the Tel Aviv District Planning and Building Committee in January and prepared by a group of developers led by JTLV Investments, an Israel-based real estate investment company backed by large financial institutions and private investors.

Under the proposed plan, the elevated plaza and the structures in it will be razed to build a complex of buildings arranged around the perimeter of the square, which will be lowered to become level with the surrounding area so that the view from Ben-Gurion Boulevard to the sea is no longer obscured.

According to the plan, two 25-story towers covering 65,000 square meters (about 700,000 square feet) of space together with a third building of six stories over 4,800 square meters (51,666 square feet), will fill much of what is currently a public area, offering a combination of residential apartments and hotel/commercial space.

The developers said Atarim Square is currently made up of old, neglected, and in some cases abandoned structures in and around the area, with some parts largely inaccessible to pedestrians and people with disabilities.

In their presentation, they argued that the present state of Atarim Square disrupts the “urban flow” of the area and redevelopment could offer not just urban renewal but also housing — though any apartments on Mediterranean seafront real estate in one of the most expensive cities in the world are likely to be multi-million dollar luxury residences.

Atarim Square, Tel Aviv, September 2015. (Dr. Avishai Teicher, CC BY 2.5, Pikiwiki/Wikimedia)

The developers are also proposing the construction of a clear space, or corridor, through the center of the square for the public to walk (and look) through to the beach promenade, and promising to deliver some 10,000 square meters (about 107,600 square feet) of open space together with another 600 square meters (approximately 6,450 square feet) of space close to the seafront.

Opponents of the plan say Atarim Square has been deliberately neglected for the last three decades, and no attempt has been made to bring it back to life as an area for the general public to use.

Atarim Square, known for a time as Namir Square, was imagined as a tourist hub when building began in 1971. Built in the then-fashionable Brutalist style, the project delivered a multi-story car park, gas station, storefronts, and restaurants, an amphitheater and a glass rotunda. A second building housed a hotel (currently operating under the Leonardo brand) and shops.

In the 1990s, the square was home to what was then Israel’s largest nightclub, the Colosseum, housed in the rotunda. But the area suffered a consistent decline, blamed on infiltration by criminal organizations running protection rackets and other crime rings. In the 2010s, the rotunda housed the Pussycat club, a seedy but upmarket strip club that police also said operated as a brothel and a center for human trafficking for sexual exploitation. When that closed in 2018, a Jewish learning and activism initiative took up residence.

The former Pussycat Club building in Tel Aviv. (Esther Rubyan/Flash90)

A number of development plans for the area have been floated over the years but none received the green light for construction. The latest proposed plan will also face a lengthy planning process that may or may not end with demolition orders and building permits.

Opponents have indicated they are up for a fight over the plans. Those who filed their objections this month argued that the public’s voice and needs are not being effectively taken into account through the planning process. They believe the pressure to build more new apartments for top prices is limiting public space and access to the sea.

A rendered image of development plans for Tel Aviv’s Kikar Atarim area from Hayarkon street, as proposed in a presentation to the Tel Aviv Municipality dated January 2022. (Screenshot via the Tel Aviv Municipality website, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A Brutalism architecture appreciation group has also voiced its opposition to the plan, arguing that the square is a world-class example of Brutalist architecture and that development plans should therefore focus on the conservation of the current buildings.

Structures in Atarim Square, Tel Aviv, September 2015. (Dr. Avishai Teicher, CC BY 2.5, Pikiwiki/Wikimedia)

Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, the Kikar Hamedina plaza has already battled through extensive local objections. In the last month, Tel Aviv authorities have granted a building permit to allow construction to start on three residential buildings, rising over 150 meters, containing 453 housing units, extensive underground parking, and a surface-level public park area. These buildings will replace a poorly maintained public park, shops and apartments.

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