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Letter from Athens: The Ellinikon Experience: Athens’ Wonderland for the Rich 

The search for Utopia is over. It’s being built, albeit slowly, on Athens’ seaside – the so-called Athenian Riviera – on the site of the abandoned Ellinikon International Airport that was left to deteriorate for two decades while politicians fiddled over its fate.

For 4 ½ lost years (2015-19) it was stymied by the former ruling anti-business previously anti-Capitalist Looney Left SYRIZA which didn’t want foreign investors, or the jobs they brought, and paid the price for it.

The Leftists were ousted by the Uber-Capitalist New Democracy that would sell the Parthenon to investors to make money – at least that would end the fable about getting back the Parthenon Marbles.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who never met a rich man he didn’t like, correctly kickstarted the 8-billion euro ($8.44 billion) Ellinikon development to make something of the rubble by the sea.

At 1531 acres, it was supposed to become Europe’s biggest urban park – twice the size of New York City’s Central Park – before Greece’s economic and austerity crisis and the chance for profiteering turned the plan commercial.

The Greek developer Lamda, which was allowed by a previous government to build the Athens Mall on state-owned land, is doing it again at Ellinikon and will make it a place of wonder, especially for those with money.

To get a preview of what’s coming there is an Ellinikon Experience Park there, with a forest playground for children, a water maze, a tiny Zen park that’s not Japanese, and the focal point – the Experience Centre.

It’s in one of the former hangars and is an interactive, multisensory show that even seems to put you on a boat for a look at the luxury residences, luxury stores and a glimpse of yachts that will dock there.

“The Ellinikon is the first area in Greece that will be developed from the ground up as a smart city,” Lamda’s CEO Odisseas Athanasiou said about the development to transform the area allowed to fester for 20 years.

And indeed it is. It overwhelms with the sheer glitz and glamor of it, until you begin to look at who it really wants to be there. And while there will be big box stores, this experience is designed for those with very deep pockets, and gamblers for a Hard Rock Integrated Resort Complex that includes a casino.

There’s no doubt it’s better than acres of rocks and rotting airplanes, but where’s the affordable housing, even something symbolic so that people who don’t have yachts can spend more than an afternoon there gazing?

The symbol of Ellinikon will be a 45-story luxury tower right up front on the so-called Athens Riviera where public beaches were leased in violation of the Constitution to private businesses and luxury resorts.

Every floor of the tower has been sold out at a reported 16,000 euros ($16,890) per square meter, or about 10.76 square feet, which would mean a two-bedroom size of about 82 square meters (882.64 square feet) will cost $1.384 million, or what’s being called New York prices.

The developer’s owners said that real estate will average 10,000 euros ($10,600) per square meter, far beyond the reach of most Greeks, 30 percent sold to Syrians, Egyptians, Emiratis, other Europeans and Americans.

Athanasiou argued that by attracting foreign buyers, The Ellinikon opened up Greece’s stagnant economy and made no apologies for trying to attract rich buyers because that’s who this place is really for.

“For many, many decades, Greece was redistributing the pie of wealth, or poverty, if you will, and now with the new income that is coming from all places in the world, we are bringing in new money. The new money will be distributed more or less to everybody,” he said.

Buyer beware, because Ellinikon will be cut off from the seaside by one of the busiest roads in Athens, like a speedway, because there wasn’t enough money to put it completely underground like Boston’s Big Dig did to an elevated highway.

“The Ellinikon city reflects a new paradigm of living, working and enjoying life by the sea,” Athanasiou told the Robb Report, which is kind of like the now-defunct Playboy magazine but with centerfolds of luxury homes and doors spread wide.

“The Ellinikon Experience Center heralds a new era for the future prosperity and innovation of Greece,” Athanasiou said.

“It is the best way to experience the project right now, globally, that will change the way people think about smart urban development, sustainable retail, recreation, travel experiences and coastal living for years to come,” he said. But it’s really designed to make money.

The first phase, including the residential tower and a retail and dining galleria, is expected to open in 2025. This will be followed by the launch of a sporting complex, marina and next-gen transportation system.

There will be 31 miles of walking and biking paths and limited access to the sea and beach, and there’ll be a 1-square-mile park in the development, the previews showing it will be an oasis of greenery and water.

The Ellinikon will be 7 kilometers southeast of the $750 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center that is Athens’ prime attraction now, and it will be a wonder and sanctuary from the city, but you can’t help but wonder what it could have been. Imagine Central Park occupied by luxury high-rises, a casino and a mall. We needed serenity there.


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