ATHENS - Greece is closing on defining boundaries for the 7.9-billion euro ($8.564 billion) project at the old Hellenikon international airport site that was supposed to be Europe’s biggest urban park but will be turned into commercial space because the country needs the money.
The project has been delayed by objections by 18 lawmakers in the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party’s coalition with the pro-austerity, far-right, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are speeding privatizations, breaking campaign promises to stop them.
But the Culture Ministry said progress is being made in dealing with the investors and what the project will entail and details on how to protect any prospective antiquity finds, the news agency Reuters reported.
A consortium of Abu Dhabi and Chinese investors, led by Greece's Lamda, which had unlawfully built the Athens Mall, a court found, signed a deal in 2014 for the 99-year lease at the site which now hosts abandoned buildings and derelict aircraft almost right on the sea and nearby beaches.
Greek lawmakers cleared the investment last summer and investors hoped excavation works could start in the first half of this year even though objectors within SYRIZA wanted the work halted and to declare the neglected, abandoned site an archaeological dig without saying what the alleged ancient treasures were.
The government also has filed to provide the necessary licensing while promoting the development it simultaneously hailed and wanted stopped.
In a letter of reply published on the Parliament's website, the Culture Ministry said it was at the final stage of determining the boundaries of the site but that all works would be closely monitored by Greek archaeological experts before any permit was given and said construction work would stop for as long as needed for the authorities to evaluate, move or showcase any antiquities that may be found.
Under the deal signed in 2014 and revised last year, investors led by Lamda Development will pay 900 million euros ($956.66) for a 99-year lease – about 9 million euros a year – to turn the abandoned site into a plot filled with hotels, residences and mostly commercial use, with far less green space than before.
The overall development is expected to cost seven billion euros Hellenikon site, a wasteland of decaying terminals and rusting airplanes, into a seaside town of hotels and residences. That project is expected to cost 7 billion euros.($7.44 billion) to construct.