There is no ignoring the beautiful building arising in the heart of the American-German Colony on the border between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. The yellowish building will open in the coming months as a 42-room boutique hotel. It is impossible to ignore the decision by the building's developers to open a hotel in a building that could have been made into a residential building, or at least into a combined residential and hotel building, in one of the most coveted neighborhoods in Tel Aviv.
The hotel will cover two historic buildings: the former Jerusalem Hotel at 6 Auerbach Street and Norton House at 4 Auerbach Street, the location of the Keren restaurant. Both of them will now be the Drisco Hotel, jointly owned by Vitania, the American Colony, and Or-Shell Holdings (33.3% each).
Together with two other buildings, these buildings were purchased in 2007 from developer Dov Sokolovsky; they contain a total of 2,500 square meters. The urban outline plan for the land allows their use for residence or a boutique hotel with 44 rooms. Both buildings are designated for strict preservation.
"Globes": Why did you decide to build a hotel, instead of a residential building, when prices are constantly soaring?
"We were encouraged by the municipality to go in either a residential or hotel direction," says Or-Shell co-owned Avi Jacques, who represents the owners and serves as a hotel advisor for the project. Or-Shell owns two other hotels: the Vital Hotel and the Baby Lis Maternity Hotel. Another hotel in the advanced planning stages located on Ben Avigdor Street, near the Sarona compound, is a conversion of an existing building into a hotel.
"We decided to restore it to its former glory," Jacques says. "We didn't take only economic consideration into account. We want to rejuvenate what used to be here."
Jacques sounds like the kind of romantic person who can persuade people with the vision he presents. "We're not sorry about what we decided," he says, referring to skyrocketing real estate prices, and even after he admits that building a hotel in a building marked for strict preservation involves huge expenses estimated at NIS 120 million, most of which is due to the demanding usage requirements. "Preserving a building like this lengthened construction and at least doubled the investment. It includes innumerable costs, also because of engineering constraints that pose a difficult challenge," Jacques explains.
NIS 1,400-1,500 a night
One of the most painful problems with buildings designated for preservation involves keeping the original staircases, even if this costs five times as much in the final product. The wooden staircase in the hotel is a story in itself: preservation of the building required complete reconstruction of the staircase from 150 years ago. How can that be consistent with fire safety standards? The staircase contains a metal element covered with wood using a special technique.
The professionals for preservations were selected with tweezers, such as the dozens of artists from Israel and overseas who spent three years restoring the wall paintings decorating the bar in the basement.
The Israeli hotel industry is booming, and new hotels are opening in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to keep pace with the number of tourists frequenting Israel - 3.6 million in 2017, and the Ministry of Tourism envisions the number reaching five million in the coming years.
Among other things, Fattal Hotel Management announced construction of the NYX Hotel in Jerusalem, the Setai Hotel opening in Jaffa a short while ago, and Saul, a new boutique hotel, opening its doors near the Bezhalel market in Tel Aviv, joining the other boutique hotels opened in Tel Aviv in recent years. Tel Aviv is the leading location in Israel for hotel occupancy, with a 74% average rate in 2017, a high figure for hotels in Israel. Most overnights in Tel Aviv are by foreign tourists.
The hotel sector is not free of difficulties. It is the most sensitive to security events, and the first to respond with a flight by tourists. Furthermore, Tel Aviv was recently rated as one of the world's nine most expensive cities. Tourists also suffer from the cost of living by paying high prices for all aspects of a vacation in Israel. A vacation in The Drisco Hotel costs NIS 1,400-1,500 a night, including breakfast.
Hoteliers, who cite excessive regulation as an excuse for the high price of an overnight, are now also worried about the low shekel-dollar exchange rate, which is weighing down on the industry. Despite all this, Jacques reiterates, "We're not sorry that we chose to build a hotel property."
"A historical pause "
The new hotel will also include a bar and a fancy restaurant (Shahar Biton) in the basement. There are 37 rooms in the main building, plus five more in Norton House. Every room looks different. Some of them overlook the sea, while some face Immanuel Church Jaffa in the heart of the neighborhood. Even before it opens, the hotel's high standards are shown by that fact that the Leading Hotels of the World group, which includes hundreds of luxury hotels all over the world, welcomed The Drisco to its ranks, together with hotels like the London Ritz, Le Bristol Hotel in Paris, the Kempinski Hotel in Berlin, the King David and American Colony hotels in Jerusalem, and the Setai Hotel, which recently opened on the Clock Tower square in Jaffa.
"There was nothing here; it was abandoned. The Keren restaurant was a rickety shack, and the Jerusalem Hotel building was a hazardous structure," Jacques remembers. "I myself arrived in Israel in 2004 after selling the hotels I had in London, and I built the Vital Hotel next to the Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital). Then I met Vitania chairperson Ehud Samsonov, who took me on a tour of the Jerusalem Hotel building. I felt that this was something I had never seen before. My imagination ran wild. We threshed out the idea, and decided to do something about it together. We bought a third of the rights, and decided to throw away the permit zoning the site for residential construction. We decided to start from the beginning as a hotel.
"The American Colony was the in place. There was a railway station here. Everyone of any stature stayed in the hotel. Everyone landing at Jaffa Port on his or her way to Jerusalem stayed at this hotel. We believe that it was an amazing place. WWII had a bad effect on it, but this period was just a historical pause. What happened here was that from being neglected, the neighborhood has recently become one of the sexiest places in Tel Aviv. The hotel here will stunningly complete the American Colony. What's missing here today in the neighborhood is a little nightlife style, and we're providing it."
Naor Mimar, preservation architect of The Drisco Hotel project (together with architect and interior decorator Ari Shaltiel), has accompanied the project for the past four years. He believes that the project is culturally important: "According to the Tel Aviv outline plan, the entire area of Eilat Road is zoned for towers. I think it's important that the American Colony remain as a preserved island. When you talk about preservation in Tel Aviv, people usually think about the international or eclectic style, and the discourse is only about the real estate aspects, but there are other places and stories that are not mainstream."