Greece is hoping the transformation of a vast site where Athens airport once was can help kick-start the moribund economy.
It is an area larger than the principality of Monaco, more than six million square metres, and about to become Europe’s biggest building project, turning it into what developer Lamda has said will be a world-class, high-end tourist resort.
Lamda’s chief executive Odisseas Athanassio told euronews: “This project will put Greece on the global tourist destination map, as it integrates different uses. There are places in the world with big and beautiful parks, other places with access to beautiful seaside, others with a fantastic climate. Here we’ll have a combination of all three. We’re going to build the biggest and most modern aquarium in Europe, with a sea life museum, one of the biggest parks in Europe, at least one apartment tower that will be the highest in the Mediterranean.”
The airport shut in March 2001, some of the land was used for events at the 2004 Olympics, but has lain fallow since then, the buildings crumbling.
Euronews business correspondent Symela Touchtidou in Athens reports: “The privatisation of the former airport site was neither quick nor simple. It took 30 months from when tenders were invited. Nine companies initially expressed an interest, but only one submitted a binding offer. That company won the project but does not know when it will start work. There are still bureaucratic procedures to be completed.”
Not everybody is in favour of the plans. Some politicians say the developers are not paying enough for state assets on a 99-year lease.
Hellenikon’s mayor Christos Kotzidis, who is leading a campaign against the project, complained: “The needs of the people, not only of the neighborhood, but of Athens in general, are not met by building luxury homes, hotels, casinos and shopping malls. People need parks, open spaces for leisure.”
In Greece big investment projects are often met with scepticism.
But the country’s unemployment level is over 26 percent of the workforce and the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research has calculated this eight billion euro development will create 90,000 jobs, once completed.
Nikos Vettas, the Foundation’s General Manager, said: “The Greek economy desperately needs new investment money, in large amounts, and the strengthening of internal demand. By the end of this project’s timeline in 2026, it could have raised GDP by two percent.”
Lamda, controlled by Greece’s richest man, Spiros Latsis, leads a consortium of Chinese and Abu-Dhabi based companies.
Hellenikon is a key project for Greece to meet a 3.6 billion euro privatisation target set by its international lenders this year.