The Ups and Downs of Historical Tel Aviv

Historical Tel Aviv
Old Buildings New Directions

Historical Tel Aviv is the geographical area between the Tel Aviv port in the north, Jaffa in the south (let’s not forget that Jaffa is also part of the city and is home to many historical buildings), Ibn Gvirol Street in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

The Tel Aviv municipality has named about 1600 buildings as historical sites, and in 2003 the city of Tel Aviv was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its large number of Bauhaus-style buildings.

Over the past several years many projects have been undertaken to restore historical buildings and entire neighborhoods such as Neve Tzedek, the American Colony and the German Colony of Sarona have undergone renovation and restoration.  The result is a rejuvenation of the whole city, bringing more tourists and more business.  Tel Aviv, often called “The White City” is being returned to its former glory.

This is all very romantic but who pays for the restoration of these historical buildings?   What does it mean for the owners of these properties?  The cost of the restoration lies with the owners.  When a building is declared to be “historical” it cannot be demolished and any additions or outside renovation work must adhere to strict rules set out by the municipality.

These buildings are very old and do not enjoy the building rights enjoyed by non-historical buildings, for example, the right to add a porch. The idea is to preserve the look of the original building, but the preservation work can be very expensive. Special materials must be used which can be more expensive than materials used in “ordinary” renovations and very often cannot be obtained in Israel.

The preservation work also requires strengthening the building against earthquakes and many times the construction of parking under the building.  All of this can be very expensive.  When an entire building is owned by one person or family it may be easier to sell but when the building is divided into individually-owned apartments, this can be a very heavy economic blow for the owners thereby making it harder for them to sell their apartments.

The Tel Aviv municipality regards these owners as fortunate and since the declaration of a building as historical increases the property value, the owners should pay a betterment tax. The municipality holds that these neighborhoods are much” trendier” and that many people would rather live there than in the towers in the newer sections of the city.

On the other hand, with the extra financial burdens placed on owners of historical buildings, many people feel that not only is the property value not enhanced when a building is declared historical but rather the opposite is true.  However, the jury is still out on that question.  Owners of such buildings had until September 4, 2011 to submit a claim for damages against the Tel Aviv municipality under the claim that the declaration of a building as historical causes a devaluation of the worth of the property.

In the past the Tel Aviv municipality has refrained from declaring buildings as historical in order to avoid these law suits, resulting in many beautiful historical buildings falling into ruin.  Some plans have been implemented to mediate between the need to preserve historical buildings and the need to alleviate the economic burden on property owners, but more must be done in this matter so that we can all enjoy these beautiful buildings in the future.