New life and new strife for a Haifa
By Miri Reilly
The city of Haifa is engaged in a drawn out campaign
to persuade residents of protected rental housing in the old German
Colony to move out in return for compensation as part of the larger plan
to renovate this part of the city.
By the end of this year, the German Colony Rehabilitation Administration
hopes to finish building a pedestrian mall on Ben-Gurion Boulevard,
ending Stage One of the plan to renovate the neighborhood. But there are
many obstacles to further progress.
The administration is engaged in torturous negotiations with the
residents of the old homes because they enjoy protected tenancy, meaning
that they pay very low rent and would naturally expect to be paid
substantial compensation in exchange for moving out. Few of these people
ever thought the value of their homes, many of which are in need of
renovation, to double or even triple over five years. The core of the
dispute is just how much the value of the properties has actually
appreciated, since the compensation to be paid is proportional (by law)
to the property's market value. Various surveyors are still disputing
Last week, the rehabilitation administration reached agreement with one
more tenant. Alex Shadmon, the chairman of the administration, says that
each of these deals can take months to conclude. "The renovation project
for the German Colony, which is part of the tourist region in Haifa's
lower city, will make it into something like what Nahalat Shiva is for
Jerusalem," he said, referring to the gentrified neighborhood in the
There are about 50 houses built by the German Templars before or around
the turn of the century in the German Colony. Most of them are on
Ben-Gurion Boulevard, where the new mall is slated for completion toward
the end of this year. According to a municipal brochure, this will be
part of "a kilometer or urban aesthetics." The brochure envisions people
"taking a stroll down the mall, sitting down to rest on the benches and
enjoying the view from the Baha'i
gardens on the slopes of the Carmel and the sea at the end of the
But on its way to realizing this vision, the renovation is making life
fairly difficult for the people who live the neighborhood or have small
businesses there. While building the mall, the sidewalk was expanded at
the expense of yards, and the city expropriated about 9,000 square
meters of land on both sides of the street.
The city also told owners of garages and other small businesses that are
not suitable for a tourism area that it wants them to move. Last July,
the Haifa Magistrate's Court rejected a petition from the owners of a
garage to issue an injunction against the municipality to stop the
renovation project. The owners of the garage claimed in their petition
that the extensive roadwork blocks the entrance to their garage and
causes them damage.
The city is now negotiating with the owners of 10 business that it wants
to move. In some cases the move is coordinated with the Israel Lands
Administration (ILA), and the owners receive compensation from the city.
In other cases, the disputes get to court. The municipality would not
say how much compensation it is offering, claiming that the negotiations
are still in an early stage.
In the meantime, work on the mall is continuing. The new Ben-Gurion
Boulevard will connect the world center of the Baha'i movement to the planned restaurant area
near the port of Haifa. The renovation job includes work on the facades
of the houses, eight small piazzas and two larger ones.
The budget for the renovation project is NIS 45 million, but the pace
depends on the speed which the money, provided by the city, the Tourism
Ministry and the ILA, comes through.
The owners of small businesses in the area are not too happy with the
project. Shadmon, asked why the municipality had not conducted a survey
among the residents and owners of small business, said it was obvious
that the work would disrupt business and a survey would have delayed the
development project. On the other hand, he is sure that the project will
be worthwhile in the end.
Two new commercial centers are under construction in the area, and these
are supposed to provide the new neighborhood's commercial muscle. The
City Center project being built by the Mirage group (controlled by
businessman Gad Ze'evi) is not yet finished, while the second project
undertaken by the Angel group is partially occupied. The second project
includes an old Templar house built in 1870.
Three hotels are also being planned in the area, one on the corner of
Hagefen Street and Ben-Gurion Boulevard. The other two are planned in
old age homes that the city is interested in turning into hotels after
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