SYRIZA Roadblocks Stymie COSCO Plans for Piraeus’ Transformation

N. Ikonio, Perama, Piraeus. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Georgia Panagopoulou, file)

ATHENS – The Chinese company COSCO that runs the port of Piraeus has rejected a proposal by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA to separate a $500 million scheme to upgrade the area with a mall and other projects with small businesses opposed to the idea.

The business newspaper Naftemporiki said the master plan by COSCO, which has already transformed the dingy port into the second-busiest in the the European Union, has run into opposition from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ party, which has elements that don’t want foreign investments or businesses in Greece.

Unofficial negotiations over the recent period between the Piraeus Port Authority (PPA) officials and the leadership of the shipping and environment ministries over specific projects in the master plan have reportedly failed to bridge differences.

SYRIZA wants the draft master plan to be broken up into two parts, with the first including all of the projects specified in a framework contract between Greece’s privatization agency (HRADF) and COSCO, the paper said.

The second part of the agreement would include “non-obligatory” projects, mostly the ones that have attracted opposition, such as a new shopping mall within PPA’s premises, hotels and even high-rise construction, with the Chinese company refusing.

The fiercest opposition is against the mall being built next to a new 120-million-euro ($135.79 million) cruise ship hub that’s in limbo after legal challenges from contractors, who lost out in a tender for its construction.

Businesses in Piraeus that count on cruise ship arrivals in an area that remains downtrodden don’t want the mall, the paper said, fearing the competition.

Data and initial forecasts show the total outlay – roughly 200 million euros ($226.32 million) – for a new cruise ship hub will require additional commercial exploitation, beyond just cruise ship arrivals and home porting, in order to cover the total investment, the report also added.

PPA sources also promised a mall with “high-end” stores and outlets catering to more affluent cruise ship passengers which it said wouldn’t be in competition with smaller merchants in Piraeus.

Another major source of opposition to the master plan is COSCO’s intent to build and operate a new logistics center on a 12-hectare tract (29.65-acre) of land adjacent to the Keratsini municipality, with officials there said to think it will put a burden on an already industrialized area.

SYRIZA wants the logistics center to be built in the Thriasio industrial district, due west of the Piraeus port, far from the operations and where COSCO wants it to be on its own port premises.

There’s also said to be opposition to a new resort and high-rise hotels in the port authority which existing businesses don’t want with the shipping and environment ministries preferring the renovation of unused hotels and new construction later, the paper added.

COSCO officials, however, said new hotels are crucial to its vision for an upgraded port and cruise ships to keep Greece building on a record run of tourism season, especially with Chinese tourists choosing Mediterranean cruises for their overseas holidays.

Repair shops and smaller shipyards want to prohibit COSCO from building a new 8,500-ton “synchrolift” within the port authority because it would take business away from them.

While Tsipras said he wants foreign investment to help what he said is a burgeoning recovery from a more than 8 ½-year-long economic and austerity crisis, dissidents in his party are preventing the development of the $8 billion project to turn the old Hellenikon International Airport on Athens’ coast into a mix of high-end uses, blocking a gold mine in northern Greece and a tourism development on Corfu.

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