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Stalled 8-Billion Euro Hellenikon Project Gets Greek Parliament OK

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Abandoned Hellenikon Airport. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Christos Bonnis)

ATHENS - Greece’s Parliament, controlled by the ruling New Democracy Conservatives, approved a contract transferring partial ownership of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport to a Greek company that plans an 8-billion euro ($9.44 million)  development.

The project has been delayed for years, totally stymied during the  4 ½-hear rule of the former ruling anti-business Radical Left SYRIZA which has hardcore elements and doesn’t want foreign investors.

The plan is now in the hands of the the Greek development company Lamda which bought out foreign partners, China’s Fosun and Abu Dhabi’s Eagle Mills, and the okay by lawmakers brought it closer to realization.

The 1,530-acre site is on the so-called Athens Riviera, where disused runways, terminals and former Olympic venues have sat abandoned for almost two decades, and will be turned into a complex of shopping malls, hotels, commercial spaces, and residences under a 99-year lease with the state, reported Reuters.

It was supposed to have been Europe’s largest park after it was closed in 2001 when a new airport opened northeast of Athens but opposition, including from environmentalists, saw it constantly pushed back.

Construction had been scheduled to begin in 2008 and be completed by 2013 but the plans were shelved as a near decade-long financial and austerity crisis overwhelmed the country, leading to plans for commercial development and smaller park.

Some work began in July, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic with the razing of old buildings and it’s due to be completed in 2024 although timetables aren’t always certain in Greece.

Demolition crews began tearing down the first of hundreds of blocks that need to be removed from the site, which is three times the size of Monaco and the contract gives Lamda lease and ownership rights over part of the former airport, one of the last steps before the developer starts construction work.

“There will be a metropolitan pole of global appeal which … will showcase Athens as a tourist destination, a business hub and a spot of recreation in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region,” Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said before the vote.

The project is expected to create 75,000 jobs and bring about 14 billion euros to state coffers over 25 years of construction, he said. After New Democracy ousted SYRIZA in July 7, 2019 snap elections, Prime Minsiter Kyriakos Mitsotakis moved to speed the development but then COVID-19 hit.

A consortium led by U.S. casino operator Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment plans to build and operate a luxury resort for 30 years on the site. That contract also needs Parliament’s clearance, the news agency noted.

Late in 2020, Lamda said that domestic and foreign companies will bid to jointly build two skyscrapers near the sea front.

The Greek company has also been looking for partners for the construction of two landmark towers of offices and residences and more than a dozen investors submitted non-binding offers, an official not named told Reuters.

It was unveiled in 2013 and the government today said it could create as many as 10,000 jobs during construction and attract thousands of tourists as the last link between development of the port of Piraeus and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center between them along the seafront.