Hellenikon Project Hangs Up on Stalled Casino License

Τhe old Hellenikon International Airport site. Photo: Eurokinissi/Georgia Panagopoulou

ATHENS – Years of delays for the $8 billion development of Greece’s abandoned Hellenikon International Airport – which was supposed to be Europe’s largest urban park – are continuing with little hope for a start before the end of the year.

The developers, the Greek-based Lamda Development who built the unlawful Athens Mall, the Chinese Fosun group and an Abu Dhabi company, have been pushing the anti-development Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – who said he wants investors – to accelerate the pace of approvals but now is hung up on a casino license.

The Athens-based company’s President, Tasos Giannitsis, spoke at an extraordinary general assembly of shareholders’ meeting in Athens and while happy a Presidential decree has finally been given, said there’s no word on when a license for the casino – which he said the whole project hinges on – will be granted, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said.

Market watchers said they don’t expect that will happen before the end of the year, pushing construction off until next year, if it happens then as elements in Tsipras’ party are furiously trying to keep foreign investors out of the country.

Greece’s Supreme Court has approved the project, a key element of the country’s bailout program, ruling that it in accordance with Greece’s constitution and laws, but stressed that it must strictly adhere to environmental and building regulations.

The court also said planned construction of several skyscrapers on the site — bypassing existing limitations on high buildings — can go ahead for reasons of public interest.

In January, Deputy Economy and Development Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas said in a radio interview before the ruling that it would be followed by the licensing of the casino in the area.

Those procedures, Pitsiorlas told Thessaloniki’s Praktoreio FM, should be completed by end-June before it turns out it likely won’t happen by then. “I believe that in the first six months all this will be done, so that within 2018 everything will be on track for the investment to begin,” he stated.

The process showed the transformation of the scheme that was supposed to be Europe’s largest park with a prime spot on the seacoast before the country’s crushing economic crisis caused a turn toward commercial development of high-end luxury residences, shops, a casino, yacht port and other businesses.

The country’s Archaeological Council (KAS) put up a roadblock with a decree that some 30 hectares (74.13 acres) was off-limits for building and a part of the site, the small promontory of Aghios Kosmas, which lends its name to the seafront at the southeast Athens site, is the designated spot.