After 12 Years, More Delays for Hellenikon Airport Development

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

ATHENS – Now a weed-filled area of empty tarmacs and abandoned buildings and airplanes, the development of Athens’ former Hellenikon International Airport, stalled for 12 years, isn’t scheduled to begin any time yet, with elements in the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA anxious to stop it completely.

A new revised program for Greece’s privatization agency TAIPED, charged with selling off state enterprises – which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras vowed to halt before bending to pressure from international creditors – makes no reference to when a scheduled $8 billion development of the old airport might start.

A critical casino permit for Hellenikon is also up in the air and requires sign-offs from local planning authorities and various ministries as well as public consultation, which could stretch well into the end of the year – when construction was hoped to begin.

In November, 2018, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said the licensing of the casino wouldn’t happen until the end of 2019, further delaying plans to turn the abandoned area – that was supposed to be Europe’s biggest urban park – into a high-end mixed-use scheme of commercial spaces, a marina, hotels and other luxury amenities.

A 300-million euro ($338.69 million) installment for the license won’t be paid then for at least a year with only three American companies showing any interest, Caesar’s, Hard Rock, and Mohegan Sun. The licensing was expected to be done in the first quarter of 2019.

Three other prospective bidders withdrew as Tsipras’ Leftists have been trying to derail the deal at the same time he’s trying to push it and get more foreign companies into Greece.

The project has dragged on so long the developers, led by Greece’s Lambda along with Chinese company Fosun and a partner from Abu Dhabi, that work was not expected to begin until some time in 2019, it was said then, which now won’t happen.

The country’s notorious red tape bureaucracy, challenges from environmentalists and other activists held it up as well after plans to turn it from a park were set aside in favor of commercial development because of the country’s long-running economic crisis.

Lamda Development’s top executives spoke at a shareholders’ meeting in Athens in June where they answered a barrage of questions about the casino and the role of foreign investors in the project.

TAIPED also is trying to sell off the money-bleeding highway maintenance company Egnatia Odos in a bid to cut losses and bring in revenues under a privatization plan that is far behind schedule.

TAIPED’s Asset Development Plan (ADP), which the government has approved, also shows there are projects for the 10 regional ports, marinas and small, minor ports that are also facing delays.

The utilization of energy assets is falling further behind schedule, as is the concession of significant real estate assets, such as the Gournes plot in Iraklio, Crete, which is expected to be turned into a hotel, and the Thermopylae spa, among others, said Kathimerini.