Over the last 12 years as I’ve sought to promote cross-border real estate opportunities, I have been very fortunate to roam the vibrant Israeli tech hub of Tel Aviv more as a local and less as a tourist.
As I’ve gotten to know the city more intimately, I’ve noticed many similarities with Atlanta, which is starting to garner increased interest from well-heeled Israelis (among other non-gateway cities) as an alternative investment destination to traditional points of entry like New York.
Both Atlanta and Tel Aviv have smart, young populations, a shortage of proximate affordable housing and dynamic food and cultural communities.
Yet the cities are also very different. People in Tel Aviv are optimistic in the face of remarkable adversity, while Atlantans are significantly less zealous, enjoying life but in many ways with less passion and more cynicism. This plays out in their transportation strategies: Tel Aviv is building a subway, seemingly digging up busy areas in an effort to enhance effective growth.
Up until the Beltline, a great project, Atlanta has simply talked and talked. A trolley up Peachtree is a good idea but was raised 20 years ago. Making use of the Gulch downtown seems to be forever a fantasy. Atlanta has a more incremental and long-term approach to tackling regional mobility issues. In Israel, which has fewer people than Georgia, both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are more actively tackling transportation.
On my most recent trip in early December, northern Israel was dealing with large fires, in many ways very similar to those we had in northern Georgia. Nearly 20 twenty countries sent firefighters or equipment to battle these dangerous blazes near Haifa. Some of the firefighters stayed at our hotel and were continuously thanked for their service.
After nearly a decade of expanded U.S. real estate investment, it was clear that there was confidence in U.S. real estate for the mid to long term.
Over five working days I had two dozen meetings. The real estate investment attitude could best be described as optimistic, with investors being interested in retail, multi-family, office, senior housing and health care (and perhaps more). Interestingly, there were many positive comments about Atlanta and an equal number of comments about the frothy New York prices. In fact, after nearly a decade of expanded U.S. real estate investment, it was clear that there was confidence in U.S. real estate for the mid to long term.
Equally interesting was the fact that most investors are very comfortable in cities outside traditional gateway regions, both in the Sunbelt but so too in the Midwest, provided that there is sufficient intellectual capital, normally found in university cities and state capitals.
And yes, there was an interest in U.S. politics, but it was more focused on regional policies. For sure, Israelis believe that there will be changes, under the Donald J. Trump administration, but given their real disappointment in President Barack Obama, they do not necessarily view change in negative terms.
Then there is the city. Tel Aviv is nothing short of intoxicating with its energy, its youth, its 24-7 style and its food, all mixed in with its problems: issues like traffic, lack of affordable housing and a hodgepodge of design. With bikes and scooters everywhere, somehow most people wait to cross the street and are surprisingly polite.
My wife, Linda, and I were only in Tel Aviv for five nights, but I did my best to eat like a local. Thankfully, we were able to walk to each of our dinners, where we returned to old haunts and indulged in new favorites. We tried the beautiful Italian joint Bindella and picked from the small but unique menu at Brut wine bar for our 41st anniversary, celebrated with friends. The small street venue of Mashya pleasantly surprised us with gorgeous food, and Makem Shel Basar served up wonderful steak.
Our last dinner at Hotel Montefiore was shared with friends from Hebron who we’d met at an International Bar Association event. Linda and I learned a great deal from their meaningful perspective. The restaurant food was really good, the company even better.
We didn’t stop there, finding time to hit Coffeebar, Bakery (same owner) and Rustico (always fun to sit at the bar). The food market at Sarona in central Tel Aviv is a real addition to the city and would be very compatible at Ponce City Market in Atlanta or Chelsea Market in New York.
Some restaurants had closed down. Tel Aviv restaurants are always changing, just like the dynamic, thriving city whose vibrant population they serve.