An area three times larger than the Principality of Monaco, with a longer seafront than Monte Carlo, a space which would twice hold New York's Central Park: this is Athens' old Hellinikon airport, at the centre of a colossal plan for development and privatisation. It's a plan which, according to Spyros Pollalis, CEO of the state agency in charge of managing the area, which on its own could help make a significant change in the Greek economy.
"It's an area of 6.2 million square metres, 10km from the Athens Acropolis, 8km from the Piraeus Port and it has 3.5km of seafront and a large marina. From here you can easily reach all the most famous Greek islands. It is entirely owned by the Greek State and is available for development": this is how Pollalis summarizes the amazing value of the operation, the most vast real-estate privatisation in Europe, in an interview with ANSAmed. "It is an incredible opportunity", he adds, "because Athens hasn't kept up with the other metropolises of the Mediterranean. In Athens, you know, there aren't really any places for businesses to go. There are no homes for expatriates, of the standards they would expect. It is very nice, vernacular, I would say, as we can see here at the Plaka, but it is not a place to raise your family or have a family." The area has been the subject of development plans for quite some time now, but none seem to have worked. Today it hosts a number of private and public institutions, some former 2004 Olympic sites, but is in large part open land, covered mainly by cement, beacuse of the old airport runways. "What went wrong? Wrong promises were made and wrong expectations were raised, made without thinking about the financial support for what they had in mind", says Pollalis, who is a professor of Design at Harvard. "In this area there are public institutions which are using more space than they need. They have to leave, we have already told them. If they want to stay they have to remain there at market prices." "Some say we want to sell off everything, but I say that what is going on right now is the actual sell-off, because the area is being used by people who aren't paying the State what they should be, and by State I mean the Greek people. This is unacceptable at a time when salaries are being cut together with pensions and services", he added. The Olympic sites in Hellinikon are, according to him, a classic example of how the area is being badly employed: "Some are being used by small teams and sport associations. Many are closed. The most shocking example is the baseball stadium, the most beautiful in Europe, which is being rented to someone who isn't paying for it". Then there's the facilty which was used in 2004 for the canoe and kayak races "which could potentially become a lake in the middle of the park." Right now there are nine firms which have expressed their interest and a first selection still has to be carried out on the basis of the companies' characteristics.
"This area can contain hospitals, research institutes, offices, business centres, sporting facilities, parks, residence buildings. But the most important asset in Greece are the people: citizens with a high level of education who are now all over the world and can't find any reason to come back and contribute to the Greek economy. Space is a fundamental component if we want to have thriving businesses. Here we can have a space which can attract doctors, academics, financiers, businessmen and we can see how the Greek economy can change thanks to this. We have to aim for this, we do not want a gated community, but a high level mixed area for professionals which can serve the east Mediterranean, close to the Arab world", he concluded. (ANSAmed).