Chinese Company’s Plan to Redevelop Piraeus Hit More Roadblocks

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

ATHENS – A 600-million euro ($673.13 million) plan by the Chinese company COSCO to renovate the port of Piraeus to lure more cruise ships and tourism revenues for Greece has been thwarted by opposition from elements in the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA and a panel decision declaring much of the area an archaeological site.

The makeover would have been the first link in creating a so-called Athens Riviera, tying Piraeus along the waterfront to the nearby Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center and then down to a planned $8 billion redevelopment of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport, a project also stymied by the government.

With Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras having already reneged on anti-privatization vows to speed the sale of state assets and claiming to want foreign investors to spearhead recovery from a nearly nine-year economic and austerity crisis, elements in his party are working against him to try to block any foreign companies.

Having earlier said to be furious about government obstacles and opposition from local businesses who don’t want competition from a mall that would be a centerpiece of the plan to revive the once-decrepit port that COSCO had transformed, company officials now are trying to regroup again.

The powerful Central Archaeological Council (KAS) that had tried to also declare much of Hellenikon a protected site, further delaying a project that’s been pushed back for some 12 years with no end in site.

KAS’ decision means stricter regulations for any attempted development if COSCO wants to proceed, with Tsipras having gone to China previously and seeking more businesses to come to Greece while some in his party want to stop them.

The tougher new conditions, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, include for land uses and new construction and more bureaucratic red tape that must be overcome to build a new shopping mall and luxury hotel within the port premises or operate a 300,000-ton dry dock at the industrial Psyttalia site.

Extending the archaeological zones offshore raises questions over whether the state bureaucracy, or KAS could also stop dredging needed to make the port available to larger cruise ships who bring high-spending tourists with Greece needing their money.

COSCO’s plan to build a 12-hectare (29.65-acre) logistics center in the adjacent Keratsini municipality faces opposition by a shipping ministry-affiliated committee, while legal challenges are due to be heard by the Council of State (CoS) over the contract to build a new cruise ship terminal and a request to operate a shipyard.

COSCO reportedly is considering redrafting the master plan or taking its case to the Council of State to overturn KAS’ ruling. The company, which has a 51 percent stake in the port, sold off by SYRIZA, is also mulling buying another 16 percent.

In a story headlined China’s Biggest Investment in Greece Blocked by Archaeological Authority: Bureaucratic ruling stymies projects of Chinese shipping company Cosco at port of Piraeus, The Wall Street Journal wrote: “…One of China’s biggest investments in Europe suffered a major setback after Greek bureaucrats declared much of a port a Chinese state-run company has bought into to be of archaeological interest, likely delaying a key Chinese infrastructure project.”

The major opposition New Democracy charged that the KAS decision was a direct intervention in a massive private sector investment but Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis said it wasn’t without explaining government obstacles.