Israel's Central District Planning and Building Commission last week approved the policy document for renewal of the Ramla city center initiated by Mayor Michael Vidal. The plan aims to completely transform the wretched character and appearance of extensive parts of the city center. The aim is to make central Ramla the town's main business district, with important commercial and business centers, combined with stepped up residential construction.
The 30-acre area referred to by the document is located in the triangle bordered by Herzl Street, Weizmann Street, and Dani Mas Street. The old plan for the area allows an addition of 250 housing units and 29,000 square meters of commercial and business space to the area. The new document, which reflects the city leaders' current vision, proposes 1,250 more housing units, 125,000 square meters of commercial and business space, and 300 housing units zoned for hotels. The plan is to allow more intensive construction along the city's main streets, with an emphasis on mixed uses combining residences and commercial facades at street level. In the new construction, described as fitting in with the neighborhood texture, buildings will have 5-9 floors. In specific places, construction of up to 15-floors may be allowed.
The heart of the area will contain a pedestrian mall that will be part of the city's tourist artery connecting several of its important historical sites, such as the white mosque and the arches pool.
70 square meters that explain the situation in Ramla
An analysis of the economic viability of the renewal plan for central Ramla conducted by the Geocartography Knowledge Group shows that Ramle has 11 square meters of business space per resident, which is higher than the nationwide municipal average of 8.5 square meters per resident. At the same time, only a small fraction of this space is located in the town center. Another interesting figure is that the average space of businesses in the city center is less than 70 square meters. In other words, at present, Ramla's city center is not functioning as a central business district.
Geocartography Knowledge Group co-owner Dr. Rina Degani explains that Ramla's residents do not find what they are looking for in the town, and therefore go shopping outside it. "The town's leaders realized that it was necessary to create a link between the central business district, public business, and municipal commerce, which is functioning poorly. Once these things are changed, a link and business continuity can be forged within the city,"
Degani says. Ramla city architect Sarel Winkler hopes that the plan will rejuvenate the town center. "82,000 people live in Ramle now, and the population is due to double by 2040. Our aim is to look inward and see how we can rejuvenate the city. The Ramle civil center, which goes back to the days of Arieh Sharon (the architect responsible for Israel's master plan, G.N.), was planned as a link connecting the old city and the new city. In practice, however, it remains half empty. We have a lot of potential here, but also quite a few challenges. Our goal is to enhance the urban experience. This area is central, and also has many empty spaces. We hope that renewing the area will affect the old city and renewal of the residential area."
"There was no policy up until now"
Vidal told "Globes" why he was optimistic about the materialization of the vision: "Road 200 (the Ramla bypass road), which connects Road 431 to Road 44, will be opened next month. The IDF induction center will be moved to Ramla in the future, and Klausner Interchange (connecting Kiryat HaAmanin to the city center via an underpass), which has been in planning for 20 years already, is happening now. The national blood bank is due to move here in August. Two weeks from now, we're starting construction of a Maher Ba'ir public transportation lane on Herzl Street, one of the city's main streets. It will be the most beautiful street in the whole country."
"Globes": All of these projects sound wonderful, but why should people want to invest in a neglected and half-abandoned area?
Vidal: "Because it's happening. In April, for example, people will enter 1,000 of the 4,000 being built in the Neot Shamir neighborhood in western Ramle. Up until now, there was no policy. I prepared this policy document, and I'll make sure that the overall urban building plan for the city goes ahead and is approved. Look, our location is strategic. It takes my friends in Kiryat Gat 18 minutes to reach Ramla, and they don't have to pass through a single traffic light. 265 apartments in the Neot Ariel Sharon residential project near the white mosque were snatched up like hotcakes.
Geocartography's analysis explains that there is quite a bit of business and commerce, but not in the city center. What measures will the Ramla municipality take immediately to encourage investors to come to the city center?
"If the induction base comes here, there will be 5,000 parents coming to see their children inducted every day in 2025. This is an enormous growth engine for us."
But why should people go to live in the central business district if you are building neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city?
"Ramla is a district city serving the entire metropolitan area. When a resident from one of the Yad Rambam, Beit Uziel, or Kfar Shmuel moshavs wants to buy a pizza, hold a wedding, or go to the bank, it's always in Ramla. See what's happening on Herzl Street - the price per square meter on Herzl Street is going up more than on Rothschild Street in Rishon Lezion, because it's worth it, because there are jobs here. Herzl Street is bustling with life. On Friday, there are 50,000 people in the Ramla market, and 95% of them don't live in Ramle."
It was recently decided to dispense with the light rail Brown Line, which means that construction of many housing units will also be canceled. How will you deal with this?
"I'm negotiating with the CEO of Ayalon Highways Company to examine an option that will be better than the Brown Line - something like the Metronit in Haifa. That will save both billions and time."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 27, 2020
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