"Homeless billionaire" mulls Tel Aviv home

Nicolas Berggruen: Richard Meier's architectural influence on New York is an example of what can happen in Tel Aviv.

Nicolas Berggruen, known as the "homeless billionaire," has told "Globes" that he is considering buying a home in the luxury Tel Aviv project that he is developing. Berggruen, whose company Berggruen Residential Ltd. (TASE:BRGN.B1) is developing the 37 floor Meier on Rothschild project said, "Perhaps in the end I will buy an apartment in the project. But will I use it very much? No. Because I don't live here."

Berggruen, 49 tomorrow, the founder and president of global real estate developer Bergruen Holdings, is called the "homeless billionaire, because despite having wealth of $2.2 billion and being in "Forbes" list of 500 billionaires, he owns neither a home or a car and spends most of his time traveling and staying in hotels. Berggruen's late father Heinz, one of the world's largest art dealers, fled Nazi Germany for the US in 1936.

Berggruen's Jewish roots have drawn him to Israel. He said, "We simply wanted to find interesting things to do in Israel. It took us a year to find something unique."

Construction will begin in the coming months on the Meier on Rothschild project, on the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Allenby Street in the heart of Tel Aviv's financial district. The project has been designed by world famous architect Richard Meier.

Berggruen who arrived in Israel yesterday told "Globes" that he was drawn to Israel by his Jewish background. He said, "Israel is an interesting country, full of life and there are opportunities here. But I am sure that in some emotional way there is a connection between my Jewish roots and my investment here."

He added, "What interests me in Israel is to put up a unique project. There is no point in doing something just to do something, and which resembles other projects. We are talking about a small country where it is not easy to do business. So why put up a project here if I could put up an identical project in another place in the world more easily."

He continued, "In Israel everything is more complicated. Everything requires a discussion and takes more time and there is more administration. In my opinion, because this is such a small place everybody is more active over every matter. There are many clever people here and that complicates matters."

In addition to the Meier on Rothschild project, Berggruen also invested in seven historical properties slated for conservation in Tel Aviv's Nahalat Binyamin Street. The project was recently sold to Y. H. Dimri.

Berggruen explained, "In Nahalat Binyamin we lit a spark of enterprise but it was less important that we complete the project. It is difficult to do business and a headache to implement preservation and restoration projects and work here with the various planning committees, mainly in the area of preservation sites."

He said, "So we decided that if we are investing our energies in something it is preferable to do invest in a project that has a view of Tel Aviv - the project in Rothschild Boulevard."

He continued, "I have no doubt that the Nahalat Binyamin project will be implemented. But it doesn't bother me that much if it does or doesn't because it's not a building that we started from the beginning but buildings we preserved."

Berggruen added, "In Rothschild, in contrast, we were ready to invest time and headaches, and pay an architect from New York. In Rothschild, I don't want to cut corners. Meier and I expect quality and we are ready to sacrifice for it. Here we have to do it from A to Z."

He stressed, "Richard Meier's influence on downtown New York, the city's business center, is an example of what can happen in Tel Aviv.

He said, "There are perhaps 12 architects that changed the face of New York. If we arouse this ambition in Tel Aviv and influence other developers to do like us we will have an impact and that's what excites me about this project."

Berggruen explained that 45 of the 91 units in Meier on Rothschild have been sold including to famous people like Nat Rothschild. He said, "Some of my friends have bought apartments in the project and there is a lot of pressure on me to provide a good product. They'll get in touch with me if something is wrong."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 9, 2010

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2010

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