Haifa’s downtown revival started with the Complex 21, a creative core of designers, artists and artisinal boutiques. We explore what makes it tick and bring forward its flavour.
Every city is judged by its creative core, which is often located in the city’s historical downtown. After years of neglect, Haifa’s downtown is roaring back to life with an array of smart and independent retailers, quaint art galleries and many artisanal shops and boutiques. At the heart of this revival is the Complex 21, an area that runs through the beautifully renovated Turkish market and Jaffa road. The complex, which was created in 2013 as an initiative by the municipality to breathe life into the city’s downtown, is currently one of the city’s hottest tickets. The strategy behind the complex was to attract a creative class and help them set up shop. This strategy had already been successfully employed in many cities such as London, New York and Baltimore and Mayor Yona Yahav recognized the fact that this would make perfect sense for Haifa.
The city has renovated many of the handsome Ottoman buildings and retrofitted most of the facades with street facing windows. At night, especially on the weekend, the streets are lined with locals and tourists in what constitutes the city’s trendiest area.
The city has always been a cultural center in Israel with many of the country’s top artists, musicians and designers hailing from here. What was required was to bring many of them back and provide them with an infrastructure and some marketing muscle to make it work.
As Mayor Yahav says “If you build it, they will come. We built it and we also made sure they came.” The first thing Yahav and the city did was to create an administrative body for the downtown’s renewal to oversee the area’s development. The most important thing the city did was to create the right blend between artists, designers and retail. “When we started populating the complex, we put out a very elaborate call for submissions and created a committee that included the Haifa Museum, Beit Hageffen, design professionals and of course representatives of the city and the downtown’s administrative body, “ says Gil Meller who works at the governing body. “We wanted to create a balance between recognizable names and up and comers who we felt could really leave their mark on the area.”
Most of the retail properties, studios and galleries belong to private owners whom the city pays on behalf of the artists and independent retailers who only pay for utilities. The agreement was originally set for 2 years at which point they will pay a below-market rent of about $400 for spaces that range between 30-60 sqm.
The initiative wasn’t an easy one to promote and there was no lack for detractors. But two years in, even the biggest skeptic will admit that the area has completely come to life and has further attracted another demographic of entrepreneurs and investors who have further contributed a wide range of restaurants, bars, clubs and boutique hotels. Ironically, the biggest indicator of success for the complex 21 is the high traffic of people who come from Tel Aviv for the weekend to enjoy the atmosphere and soak in some culture.