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Letter from Athens: The Luxury of Hellenikon: The Riff Raff Not Welcome

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Bulldozers Start Work at Hellenikon. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Antonis Nikolopoulos)

Too bad Tony Bennett is so old or Lamda - the Greek company which developed the Athens Mall behind dubious circumstances and is constructing the 8-billion-euro ($9.47 billion) project at the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport south of Athens into a luxury area - could hire him to sing The Good Life at its opening in a few years.

When it finally opens, which will be almost 25 years after the airport closed for a new facility in Spata - so far outside Athens you have to save to pay for a taxi into the city and hope you're not cheated - Hellenikon will be a kind of version of New York City's Hudson Yards billionaire's playground.

It was supposed to be Europe's largest urban park before bureaucratic delays, political infighting and then a near decade-long economic and austerity crisis made governments happily derail that idea into a mostly commercial – and rich – development which means lots of cash moving around.

There will be some green space as a token to the great unwashed who can make their way there on the metro as there will be a subway stop, but Hellenikon will mostly be reserved for people with very deep pockets.

The project includes the rare opportunity to have a seaside village close to the capital city's center along the so-called Athens Riviera that will link the renovations of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO to Hellenikon, with the $861 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in the middle along the water.

This is what's called location, location, location, one of the prime spots of real estate in Europe and you know that wasn't going to become a park for people to walk around and picnic in but a commercial development to get them to part with their money, although the emphasis is on very high-end stores.

Demand from the rich and super rich to take it over has been so strong that all of the apartments a 45-floor marina tower as well as the 27 beach-front villas available will be sold by the beginning of next year, if not earlier, Odisseas Athanasiou, Lamda's CEO told Bloomberg financial news.

The company has already secured more than 700 million euros ($828.85 million) in deposits with prices starting at 9,000 euros ($10,657) per square meter, with prices expected to hit 14,000 euros ($16,577) by 2025, the highest in Greece and comparable to New York, Shanghai, and Geneva.

“It’s huge, because we’re talking about a value close to 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion)” once the property is delivered, Athanasiou said in an interview.

While there will be huge benefits to the Greek economy for the project that will be three times the size of Monaco and create 80,000 jobs by 2025 – according to the people behind it – expect a caravan of Mercedes and Lamborghinis and yachts at a marina being built there.

The project - now officially known as The Ellinikon – is seen propelling Greece's slow comeback from the economic crisis that was accelerating when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and is still lingering, cutting into tourism, the country's biggest revenue engine.

Don't be looking for McDonald's or Burger King or too many pizza joints but the kind of restaurants and eateries that feature rich food for the rich and there's been no word on whether there will be any affordable housing units there so that people with limited means can see the sea without taking the metro.

With virtually no municipal swimming pools and the beaches along the alleged Riviera taken over by private companies charging people to use public property with the implicit consent of every government, Hellenikon was the last spot for people to have greater access to the shore without paying for it.

This whole thing smacks of New York's late Power Broker, Robert Moses, telling then Gov. Al Smith – a working class guy – that highways would be built out to Long Island and Jones Beach but with bridges too low for buses, “to keep out the riff raff.” Smith said, “That's me you're talking about.”

The development was also stymied for 4 ½ years by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA which had a hard-core element that doesn't want foreign companies or investors in Greece, the government aiding in blocking the work.

Lamda bought the land in 2014 and bought out two partners, China's Fosun and Abu Dhabi's Eagle Hills, giving the Greek company sole rights for what could be a financial bonanza, mostly for the company.

“The multiplier effect from an investment standpoint, from a tourism standpoint and the perception for the country is going to be huge,” Athanasiou told the news agency as some clearing work has already begun.

He put a nice developer's spin on the vision for a site that will be mostly commercial buildings, a marina for yachts, a casino and other properties, and a much smaller park than originally envisioned.

The company has described the project on the coast south of Athens as "a modern, green, digital city, a model of viable development, friendly to people and the environment, that will highlight Greece's cultural heritage - a new place of entertainment, relaxation, walking and exercising, accessible to all."

We'll have to see.