City break tourism report: Athens Riviera dream draws closer to reality

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City break tourism report: Athens Riviera dream draws closer to realityTwo major seaside projects that will link the port of Piraeus to the planned 8-billion euro ($8.79 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport has already caused a flurry of activity

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ push to approve two major seaside projects that will link the port of Piraeus to the planned 8-billion euro ($8.79 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport has already caused a flurry of activity and hope that it will create a real Athens Riviera after years of delay under the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.

He came to power in July 7 snap elections and immediately began pushing for the construction of Hellenikon after his New Democracy government cut through the red tape that had held it up since the old airport was closed in 2001, a spell during which a previous Conservative government sat on its hands as well.

Between Piraeus – where Mitsotakis’ government has already paved the way for the Chinese company COSCO which operates the port to go ahead with its planned 612-million-euro ($671.13 million) overhaul, including upgrading facilities so that larger cruise lands can berth – and Hellenikon is the first gem in what will connect the dots of the dream.

It’s the wildly popular $861 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) that first evoked excitement. That was a gift to the Greek people and was turned over to the government when SYRIZA was in power, but the party stymied both the Piraeus and Hellenikon projects, its hard-core element not wanting any foreign businesses in Greece even during a long-running economic crisis.

The Hellenikon project was designed to finally bring some motion to the idea of turning the coast from Piraeus down past Hellenikon to the beach area of Varkiza into an area that some said would rival Monaco even though much of the public beachfront has been taken over by private clubs charging people to use the beach, which no government has remedied.

NIARCHOS LEGACY

In a feature, the New York Times outlined how the Niarchos center kick-started the now-rolling plans to put it all together, noting that the foundation funded the development of the original Hellenikon master plan with a donation of 4 million euros, or $4.4 million, hoping to revitalize the area.

Another key element is the plan to turn an area of run-down apartment blocks cut off from the sea by a six-lane coastal highway, the $240 million Faliro Bay Restoration Bay Project to reshape a sad and neglected spot and add another jewel of parkland by 2022.

In Faliro, the regeneration project will sweep in adjacent facilities created for the 2004 Olympic Games: the 2,500-seat Faliro Olympic Beach Volleyball Center and a nearby row of auxiliary buildings with a total floor area of about 120,000 square feet, the report noted.

These have sat mostly unused for 15 years. The stadium will become a performance venue, and there will be cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.

“People will now have contact with the sea; they will be able to walk by it and smell it, be wet by it. There is nothing greater than that,” Christos Kapatais, who was overseeing the project as Vice Regional Governor of Attica until local elections in June brought a change of administration.

“We are trying to recover what can be recovered, and what can be recovered is truly great,” he told the Times.

It’s much like the noted Big Dig for Boston, tearing down an elevated highway and reconnecting the North End of the city to the downtown, what used to be a road now a green pathway that brought in new shops and restaurants and became a pedestrian haven.

Already there are signs that the local real estate market has changed drastically, Kapatais said. “Before this, the whole area was for sale. From the moment the first bulldozers moved in, the ‘For Sale’ signs disappeared.”

Completed recently, a new stretch of coastal highway now passes invisibly through two sections of tunnel. The older highway has been torn up, and flood prevention works are being built to manage the two rivers that meet the sea here and once done there will be a 50-acre seaside park.

BIG SALES

The Riviera idea stretches past Hellenikon and also ties in the southeastern suburbs of Vouliagmeni and Varkiza, driving up real estate costs after nearly a decade of stagnation and deflation during the economic crisis when people couldn’t give homes away.

That’s driven too by rich foreigners who could buy residency permits that came with European Union passports – New Democracy will offer them citizenship outright, a process that takes Greeks from the Diaspora years to accomplish – if they invest in enough property at a high price.

George Eliades, a managing partner of Algean Property, a real estate company that caters largely to international buyers, said the market has grown since prices hit bottom around 2012.

“Big names are now swimming in our waters,” he said. “It’s no longer the first flipper, the quick trader. They are more serious. And the flippers are now selling their properties, and they are being bought by long-term buyers,” he told the paper.

“The name Athens Riviera itself reflects a shift in mentality. Traditionally among city residents, the shoreline has simply been referred to as the ‘coastal area’, one associated with hodgepodge development driven by narrow local interests,” the report put it.

The renovation of the Astir Palace resort in Vouliagmeni, now the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel is another draw, and a major overhaul is also underway of the Asteria resort in nearby Glyfada, while the marina of Alimos was recently sold to a developer who plans to invest some 50 million euros ($54.91 million) to make it an attractive stop for yacht owners.

But Hellenikon is the linchpin to make it all happen and it was handed to Mitsotakis by former Premier Alexis Tsipras, who let it fester for 4 ½ years.

“The Hellinikon, in a way, mirrors all of the upheavals of this period, and it has acquired a symbolic importance because it expresses all of the pathologies of the Greek state,” said Louis Wassenhoven, a professor emeritus of the National Technical University of Athens who was involved in redevelopment efforts for more than 15 years and has written a book about them.

Read more at thenationalherald.com

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinationsGreek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: WeatherExtremes

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