As real estate prices in Tel Aviv have rocketed over the last decade, Israelis and foreign investors have started to look for a cheaper piece of the Mediterranean coastline — and found that they don’t need to look far.
The city of Bat Yam, just a few minutes south of Tel Aviv, used to be famous for drugs, crime, and filth. “The image was a very bad image, of a city with low-cost apartments and no construction,” admits Nati Lerner, a senior official at the city hall. “The strong population ran away.”
But after a decade-long rejuvenation project, Bat Yam is welcoming and clean, and home to restaurants, cafes, and a growing cultural scene. There is Design Terminal, a hub for designers from different disciplines, the Notzar Theater, which moved to Bat Yam from Jaffa, and an annual street theater festival. The Riviera Gallery is the first gallery in Israel to be located on the beach. In the summer, there are regular sports sessions on the beach, all of them free of charge, including volleyball and yoga.
Adi Assif, partner at Gutman Assif Architects, which is redeveloping some of the city’s residential and business areas, commented: “A big change happened in the last five to ten years, and Bat Yam is not the same city that it was. Now, the infrastructure, public places, and services are all very much improved.”
Instead of dealing with emigration, Bat Yam is now drawing immigrants from the West — evident from the sound of French as you walk around — as well as overseas buyers looking for second homes and investment opportunities. The number of homes will grow by 10 percent in the next five years, and the new buildings are expected to be sold quickly.
Beaches are clean, relaxed and generally quieter than those in Tel Aviv. The tourism industry in the city is so confident that visitors will like today’s Bat Yam that it is in the process of increasing the number of hotel rooms by 200 percent. There are currently just 500 rooms, and by the end of 2017 there will be 1,500.
One of the big factors in Bat Yam’s favor is its transportation links. In 2011, two train stations opened in Bat Yam, providing fast connections to the Negev Desert in the south, the Galilee in the north, and Israel’s big towns and cities in between including Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Haifa.
A tram system is expected to connect Bat Yam to Tel Aviv by 2022. Until then, a high-speed bus service using special lanes will offer Bat Yam to Tel Aviv service in just 12 minutes. All if this means that while Bat Yam has the quiet and the modest prices that Tel Aviv doesn’t, it is quick and easy to get to the big city.
“We don’t need to be the new Tel Aviv,” said Lerner. “Rather, we can give a high quality of life at half the price, close to Tel Aviv.”
One of the most ambitious developments in Bat Yam is the Sea Hotel, which has special appeal to non-Israelis who are looking for a holiday home and investment property rolled in to one.
Sea Hotel will open in 2017 with 200 regular rooms and 200 rooms designated for people who want to buy them and have them rented out for six months of the year or more. These rooms are fully furnished and serviced, but can be customized to buyers’ requirements, so they can feel at home during the time they stay there. Management will guarantee a set income to the owner of each room, and will take all the responsibility for renting it.
The renowned Israeli firm Feigin Architects planned the building, and a large international firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates, was chosen to design the interiors. The hotel will be 26 floors high and include a large conference center, a pool, spa, gym, and restaurant.
Ilan Sasson, CEO of the project, has no doubt that it will compete with Tel Aviv. He commented: “Israel has a very limited beach stretch and as time goes on, less and less vacant real estate, so people will focus on new areas.”
As far as investment value is concerned, there may have been an interesting hint as to what may be in store for Bat Yam in February — it was one of just six areas in Israel that saw prices rise for homes of all sizes compared to the previous month. Sasson has high expectations. “You get very good value for your money in Bat Yam compared to Tel Aviv. We expect prices to rise dramatically in the next three to five years, so as an investment it’s a great opportunity,” he said. ◆