ATHENS – Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ last-second push before July 7 snap elections to get started the long-stalled $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport hit another roadblock when his Culture Minister blocked it.
With poll-leading major opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis vowed to get the project going in a week if he takes power, Tsipras scrambled to do the same despite hard-core elements in his party who don’t want any foreign investors in Greece.
The Culture Ministry General Secretary in what’s expected to be soon gone government opposed the signing of a joint ministerial decision which could have accelerated the development, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki.
Hellenikon, which would be turned into a high-end mixture of commercial developments, a marina, casino, park and residences, has been fiercely fought by SYRIZA dissidents and is a key component in the so-called Athens Riviera that would run from Piraeus and incorporates the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center between them.
The joint ministerial decision is required as the next step in the famously difficult Greek bureaucracy where projects can stall or die and where it’s not unheard of for officials to ask for bribes to speed the process.
The Culture Ministery’s General Secretary Maria Vlazaki, demanded more modifications to the project’s master plan than the current legislation foresees, the paper said, blocking Tsipras’ intent on getting it going even if these are his last days in power.
The ministry insisted that that all studies (for new buildings, facilities and even landscaping) at the site require its approval, regardless of whether they are in the vicinity of a modern-day architectural monument or an area of “archaeological interest”.
The Lamda Development-led consortium that leads an international group that includes investors from China and an Abu Dhabi company has ruled that out, arguing it’s not required by law and growing weary of government obstacles.
According to reports, Lamda representatives walked out meetings with government officials at least twice, the paper said as Tsipras pushed his own appointees to get the project going before the election to show he was pro-business.