Despite obstacles, real estate mogul builds a kingdom in Israel

Israeli hotel and real estate magnate Alfred Akirov admits to living for the challenge of building expensive mega projects.

As he peered out of the windows of his Tel Aviv office, which offered a spectacular panoramic view of the city and the Mediterranean coast below, a smile of satisfaction appeared across Akirov’s face.

“You see those new apartment towers in the distance? I built them. I want to get up in the morning, look out of my window and say, ‘That’s mine!'” he said.

Yet despite Akirov’s success in Israel, his fast-paced entrepreneurial spirit has repeatedly clashed with the country’s political bureaucracies, which time and again have placed stifling roadblocks in his path.

Frustrated by the country’s political establishment, Akirov’s company, the Alrov Corporation, which to date has invested well over a billion dollars in various projects spread out across metro Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is ready to pull the plug on future projects and turn their attention toward Europe.

“It’s just too political here. Nothing is to the point. And no one within this bureaucracy is really interested in doing something for the better of the nation,” Akirov claimed. “I honestly want to do more exciting tourism projects in Israel, like rebuilding the port in Tel Aviv that would feature new hotels and upscale residential areas. … There is just no way to do it right now. Every two years we get this revolving door of new government ministers. Who wants to deal with these hassles? This literally stops the country from moving forward.”

At least one other builder confirmed Akirov’s frustrations, claiming he endured nearly 15 years of stifling political bureaucracy in order to receive the “official paperwork” (including the all-important “taba,” land ownership rights) in order for him to start building an upscale real estate project on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

“You either have to have Israeli blood in your veins or just stand your ground and keep plugging away in order to survive the system,” the builder added.

If there is one specific endeavor that has given Akirov a real measure of joy after numerous battles, it is the Mamila Project-David Citadel residential and hotel complex, which sits on a majestic plateau overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.

Representing the “largest private investment in Jerusalem’s history,” the $400 million architecturally compelling complex, which was designed by Moshe Safdie (he also designed the new wing at Yad Vashem), will double in size and capacity within the next two to three years.

Akirov isn’t bashful about swimming against the tide when it comes to running a five-star deluxe hotel without the assistance of a larger management chain. The David Citadel Hotel is maintained and helmed by a professional and independent staff that Akirov personally oversees. The hotel and real estate mogul insists that the David Citadel’s 384 rooms be marketed as a “boutique hotel” to its clientele, many of whom come from the United States.

Even during the course of the recent intifada, the David Citadel was one of the few hotels that, statistically speaking, did not experience a catastrophic drop in the number of foreign tourists.

“The people who are running the [Ministry of Tourism] these days are doing a good job in trying to boost the numbers of foreign tourists to Israel, and we enjoy working with them,” Akirov said.

“But, the reality is that most tourism to Israel is repeat tourism, which means that the numbers that are being thrown out are a bit skewed. We have many repeat clients from North America and England. Families who come all the time for Sukkot, Pesach, Shavuot etc., and parents who come to visit their kids who are in local yeshivot.”

As for the new hotel, which is being erected directly across the street from the David Citadel and will open for business sometime in 2008, Akirov revealed that it will be a “city style” facility with top-quality standards.

“It will be more of a business-style type of hotel. It won’t have a swimming pool or large ballrooms like the David Citadel, but it will most definitely be one of the best,” he said proudly. “I’m excited when I go visit the site because I like the touch of good building. I’m also deeply involved with the architect, because I’m always looking to do something new and reinvent the concept of top-quality service.”