ATHENS – Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MG&E) and Hard Rock International (HRI) are “all in” when it comes to the competition to build and operate the IRC (Integrated Resort Casino) at the Hellenikon development. On Tuesday, October 8, led by its Greek-American CEO Markos Kontomerkos, MG&E made its presentation titled ‘Inspire Athens’ to the media at the Hilton Athens.
On Friday, October 4 the two American resort and gaming industry behemoths – thus are they labelled here – submitted their bids to the Hellenic Gaming Commission and the winner is expected to be named by December for a complex that will include a casino, a luxury hotel, and conference and sports centers.
The new New Democracy government has moved swiftly on the Hellenikon project after decades of multi-party delay and the most recent 4 ½ years of stagnation under SYRIZA.
Hard Rock, one of the most globally recognized brands, announced, also on October 8, that “we look forward to conducting a press conference in Athens to share our vision with the people of Greece and the rest of the world once legally authorized to do so by the Hellenic Gaming Commission…Hard Rock is committed to bringing the Company’s tremendous resources to deliver a world-class resort for Hellinikon and the people of Greece.”
While MG&E’s proposal included the Greek firm GEK Terna as its construction partner, according to its press release, “Hard Rock’s proposal was submitted as a single entity, reliant solely on the company’s ability to perform design, construction, operations and procure financing for the project,” based on its experience with venues in 75 countries that already includes a Hard Rock Café in Athens Centre.
SOARING CARYATIDS AND HEAVY HITTERS
Kontomerkos introduced architect Paul Steelman, who explained the design concept illustrated by a video showing a woman drawing one of Athens’ beloved Caryatids, which morphed into a 1 ½ tower complex.
To reinforce its case that MG&E is sensitive to local cultural elements, the company recruited a bi-partisan American team of heavy hitters – former White House Chief of Staff and past RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and former U.S. Senator and past DNC Chairman Christopher Dodd, to share their experience with MG&E’s owner, the Mohegan Native American tribe, and to spotlight their commitment to “giving back to the communities” they build in and their respect for national traditions.
The overall Hellenikon project was spotlighted on Thursday, October 3 at Hellenikon-Argyroupolis City Hall where its importance to Greece and the Athens area was emphasized, both for its economic and psychological multiplier effects, ideas echoed at the Hilton by Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ilias Spirtounias, who told TNH he first wanted to “congratulate the municipalities because this is how investment should be pursued. The investors should contact the local people and explain the benefits of the investment,” and the investors can also ask about the concerns and needs of the community. He was also very pleased that two major American companies were the final candidates and emphasized that it will send a strong positive signal to the international investment community.
Rhode Island State Senator Lou Raptakis was also present, because, as he explained to TNH, “hundreds of Rhode Islanders work at Mohegan. They are a stellar employer to many Rhode Islanders and we have a very good relationship with the company and we want them to grow everywhere, and especially here, where the CEO and I have our roots.”
Kontomerkos, who was visibly moved at times during his presentation, at one point saying he once “wept” over the pain experienced by the people of Greece during the crisis, said, “this is a day of optimism,” emphasizing both the design’s compatibility with the complex’s physical and cultural environs and the “direct, indirect, and induced” creation of up to 7000 jobs.
He added that his company is committed to the project’s “appropriate and complementary execution for the Athens cityscape, to cultural, historic, and environmental sensitivity to the essence of Greece,” and to the creation of a world class resort and entertainment complex, themes echoed by HRI.
Towards that end, Kontomerkos said he assembled “a world class Architectural team.”
Dodd, who is very familiar with the Greek-American community – indeed he said “I am a lifetime Ahepan” – said he knows MGH&E as “a positive, constructive, and generous member of the communities” where it does business.
Priebus touched those present with memories of his beloved “Papou… the person I look up to the most… who used to tell me stories about Greek, American, and World history” and who planted the seeds for a life that took him “all the way to the White House.” He also shared that his positive experiences with the Mohegan tribe began as a young corporate litigator in Wisconsin.
Also present was U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt.
The architects for such a potentially transformative project must have a passion for the goal and the locale, and Steelman noted that, “like all Architects my studies began with ancient Greek architecture.” Naturally, he said his meditation on the design began with Greek columns and the infinity of sea and sky, and was ultimately inspired by the Caryatides of the Acropolis.
The presentations were followed by a brief Q&A where a confident Kontomerkos was queried for more details. When the correspondent from Kathimerini asked, “what is your comparative advantage over your competitors,” he replied “you just saw it,” implying the day’s presentation and the video featuring the iconic towers of Steelman’s team which was distributed to all on flash drives.
When a journalist asked about the planned height of the towers, Kontomerkos explained that the bidding process did not permit them to reveal such details. Asked if they had faith in the bidding process and the Greek officials they were dealing with, Kontomerkos said, “of course we do,” and after thanking all who contributed to the work and the guests, he invited everyone to a wonderful buffet lunch.