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The Jerusalem Post
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Netanya: The rise of Ir Yamim

 
 BRIGA TOWERS, aerial view, as seen from beach, with Ir Yamim skyline in background. (photo credit: LEV SAMUELS)
BRIGA TOWERS, aerial view, as seen from beach, with Ir Yamim skyline in background.
(photo credit: LEV SAMUELS)

This vibrant neighborhood in south Netanya has grown and prospered under the watchful eye of Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar.

When my family decided to make aliyah, my only stipulation was that we live by the sea.

Coming from cold, rainy Manchester, the thought of waking up to the sight of the Mediterranean and sun-drenched beaches was too tempting an opportunity to miss. Armed with this brief, my husband and eldest son embarked on a pilot trip in 2015 to Israel to find a suitable area for us to live. 

The intrepid travelers headed straight for Ramat Poleg in south Netanya, a seaside town with houses, apartments, a small shopping center, a fabulous coffee shop and, most importantly, a beautiful beach. It was there that they found a place for us to live. And so, some months later, we packed up our home and moved 4,000 km. from the drizzly north of England to start our new lives in the sun.

One fascinating thing about the area was witnessing the rapid growth and development in the fairly new neighboring city, Ir Yamin. I soon learned that this was largely down to the hard work and dedication of the city’s long-serving mayor, Miriam Feirberg-Ikar, a woman whose name is synonymous with Netanya. 

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Last week, she seemed to have achieved the impossible – namely, securing the construction of just one hotel on Poleg Beach rather than six, as some initially feared would be built. I was keen to sit down with her – the first woman to become mayor of an Israeli city – to find out how she has shaped Netanya in the 25 years since she took office in 1998.

 2020 PLANS for Poleg Beach hotel development circulated among local residents, with six planned hotels. Now, just one will be constructed. (credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)
2020 PLANS for Poleg Beach hotel development circulated among local residents, with six planned hotels. Now, just one will be constructed. (credit: ANDREA SAMUELS)

At that time, the municipality’s deficit was around NIS 30 million, and the city had just absorbed more than 60,000 immigrants. Despite this, Feirberg-Ikar, in collaboration with the Interior Ministry, initiated a successful recovery plan through which the city’s economy grew, attracting entrepreneurs and investors, many of whom relocated their businesses to the area.

Promenades along the seashore started to appear, along with new neighborhoods catering to all sectors of the community, including Ir Yamim on the southern tip of the city.

When we arrived in Netanya, Ir Yamim was already becoming one of Israel’s most sought-after neighborhoods on the seafront. The Canyon Ir Yamim shopping mall was already a big draw, boasting a wide variety of stores, including many international chains, such as Zara, and plenty of parking. 

Luxury apartment blocks were going up at breakneck speed all around to accommodate the growing number of residents and tourists who wanted a slice of the action.

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BACK THEN, Briga Towers, the two tallest luxury towers, 33 stories each, on the seafront, had just broken ground. As they started to take shape, the large area of scrubland in the city center, on which locals had previously exercised their dogs, was slowly transformed into an impressive open shopping, eating, business, and leisure center, known as The Piano.

Unrivaled city planning transformed this area from sand dunes and scrubland into a prestigious, elegant neighborhood under the watchful eye of Feirberg-Ikar.

But as things started to take shape, I began to hear murmurings of discontent from those whose unobstructed view of the sea had been disturbed or came under threat. People who had sunk millions of shekels into fabulous properties, in the belief that they would always retain their “pole position,” were disgruntled, to put it mildly, as more buildings went up and blocked their views.

Not having been affected by this potential problem, I never even gave it a second thought when we settled in Old Poleg, as it’s known. I have since learned that city plans for Ir Yamim were drawn up decades ago and were readily available to those who wanted to check them before buying in the area.

As well as apartment blocks obscuring sea views, some residents were also up in arms about Poleg Beach. 

This largely unspoiled, cool, popular beach, which spans the length of Poleg and Ir Yamim, was one of the main reasons we chose to live there. We didn’t worry about the large patch of scrubland in front of the beach, which many years ago had been zoned for hotels, among other amenities.

As word got out that the building project was imminent, groups formed to save Poleg Beach. Court applications were filed before the construction work began, none of which was successful.

While many blamed Feirberg-Ikar for the imminent ruin of their beloved beach, what they didn’t realize, however, was that she too wanted to save this much-loved beauty spot.

Initially, six hotels were included in the plans, although as time went on, the number dwindled to three, then two, thanks to her. In place of the third hotel, a beautiful garden will be built, she confirmed.

And as of last week, she also confided to me during our meeting – and has since confirmed in a public statement – that the number of hotels was slashed from two to one, again as a result of her perseverance and tenacity.

Instead, the second hotel will be built a few kilometers up the coast in Shirat Hayam, another new neighborhood, leaving just the middle complex, where “a building permit was issued for a luxury hotel that will be built soon.”

All in all, an excellent outcome for the area as a whole.

FEIRBERG-IKAR WAS also able to allay the concerns of those who believed that the development would harm the local wildlife, assuring them that their open passage between the nature reserves on both sides of the beach would remain intact. Further, accessibility to and parking at the beach would be facilitated by the new development, she confirmed.

This latest development also seems to have found favor with David (Dudu) Slama, chairman of the beach committee that was responsible for organizing the protest. However, his take on the situation differs from the mayor’s. 

In a recent statement, Slama, who recently said that he would be running as a local council representative for The National Unity Party, declared that he was “happy to announce the cancellation of construction of the two hotels at Poleg Beach.”

He attributed this achievement to both his and his partners’ efforts, although he acknowledged the part played by Feirberg-Ikar in driving the plan through to its successful conclusion.

Not only was the mayor responsible for ensuring that only one hotel would be built on Poleg Beach, but she also managed to ensure that plans for an additional beach complex, comprising 400 housing units, went by the wayside.

She, too, acknowledged that a team effort brought about this successful outcome. “We won’t stop. The municipality under my leadership, together with the dedicated people in the neighborhood committee, will seek out the most creative and professional minds so that Ir Yamim will provide a home, a stunning backdrop, and a bustling tourist city that we all love.”

A win, win all round.  

Quarter century at the helm: Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar

Mayor of Netanya Miriam Feirberg-Ikar became Israel’s first female city mayor, a position that she’s held for a quarter of a century. 

Having completed her BA and MA in social work at Bar-Ilan University, Feirberg-Ikar started working with the Netanya Municipality as a social worker in 1972, where she served as director of the social services division until 1988. 

During that time, she worked in the welfare and education departments and established facilities for families, the elderly and disabled, as well as at-risk youth – for which she received a number of awards. 

Thereafter, she served until 1993 as the head of administration for education, welfare, and health. It was then that Feirberg-Ikar decided to enter the world of politics and successfully ran for city council as a Likud Party representative, serving for five years.

In 1998, Feirberg-Ikar was the first woman in the country elected as a city mayor.

Upon her appointment, she immediately took on the task of tackling some of the many problems facing the city, including the municipality’s NIS 30 million deficit and the rising wave of terrorist attacks, while absorbing more than 60,000 new immigrants, many of whom were from the former Soviet Union. 

AT THE TIME, the task of promoting the city seemed impossible, but Feirberg-Ikar was undeterred.

In collaboration with the Interior Ministry, she initiated a recovery plan and successfully met her objectives by restoring the city’s economy through tourism, industry, and trade. 

She managed to secure the necessary government funding to carry out her plans to rejuvenate the city, while also encouraging entrepreneurs and investors to relocate their factories and businesses to Netanya. 

As a result, the new Sapir Business Park in Poleg, south Netanya, began to flourish with large, international corporations such as IKEA, Power Center, Cellcom, and Elbit opening offices and stores there. Additionally, major oil and energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, hi-tech, and other communications companies moved their headquarters to the city.

Not only has business and the economy in Netanya started to flourish in recent times, but new neighborhoods have also been established throughout the city, attracting new immigrants and native Israelis alike to the area. These suburbs include Kiryat Hasharon, in the east of the city, and Galei Hayam on the coast. Ir Yamim and neighboring Agamim are just two of the newer areas nearing completion. 

Feirberg-Ikar has also overseen the development of beautiful promenades along some coastlines, as well as the Netanya Football Stadium. A monument commemorating the victory of the Red Army over Nazi Germany was erected on her watch, and the old Independence Square has recently undergone a complete makeover, thus creating the first interactive square in Israel.

The city’s infrastructure has also undergone a complete makeover with the construction of new roads, bridges, flyovers, and more, as well as the privatization of the water and sewage systems with the establishment of Mei Netanya (The Netanya Water Corporation).

Tourism and the hotel industry have also grown exponentially in recent years in the city, now dubbed “Israel’s Riviera.” 

As a mother and grandmother, Feirberg-Ikar has a keen eye on the younger generation, in whose hands the future of the city lies. Consequently, the municipality has always prioritized education in kindergartens and schools, with new educational complexes being constructed throughout the city, while upgrading older educational institutions.

More than a third of the city’s budget is dedicated to education, leading to a steady increase in the number of students passing the high school matriculation exams. The city’s education system has also won dozens of prizes and outstanding achievement awards.

A bright future for Netanya, Israel’s sixth-largest city.

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