By T. Igoumenidi
The former head of Greece's privatization fund, and current deputy minister, this week referred to ongoing negotiations between the leftist government and the consortium, which won an international tender to redevelop the massive Helleniko site, for a memorandum of cooperation that will allow construction to begin this year.
The latest and high-profile obstacle for the project, one of a handful of major privatizations mandated by successive bailout agreements, came on Wednesday, when several MPs from the ruling SYRIZA party tabled a Parliament question requesting "protection" for "archaeological sites" at the tract of land in coastal southeast Athens. The Helleniko properties includes the Greek capital's one-time airport runways, abandoned terminals, disused 2004 Olympic Games facilities, a police station, a mass transit bus garage, the offices of the civil aviation authority and meteorological service, and even a temporary shelter for Mideast refugees and irregular migrants.
Critics and opponents of the project, including many that were later elected to Parliament on SYRIZA's ticket, have pointed to the prospects of archaeological findings where an airport once operated, "architectural heritage" entailed in the 1960s-era terminals and even partial designations of the mostly bare site as formerly public "forest land".
One group of anti-development litigants, in fact, this week filed a motion with Greece's highest administrative charging that abandoned buildings at the site should be preserved as modern monuments.
Deputy Economy Minister Stergios Pitsiorlas, viewed as one of the most pro-reform cadres in the current leftist-rightist coalition, cited talks of a MoC to overcome current obstacles during statements from Kozani, in northern Greece, where he attended a ceremony inaugurating an urban refuse processing unit.
The MoC would ostensibly allow the archaeological service access to the construction sites expected to spring up around the site, which developers have boasted is the biggest of its kind in the Mediterranean basin.
The consortium that emerged as the winner of the tender is led by Athens-based Lamda Development, but also includes China's Fosun and Eagle Hills, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi.
In terms of the "forestland" issue, a relevant state-run forestry office with jurisdiction over the site, the Piraeus forestry office, has still not submitted a necessary report over land use for the development.
Nevertheless, Pitsiorlas expressed confidence that the project will begin in 2017.
The Helleniko real estate project, along with Cosco's assumption of the majority of Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) shares and its management, the concession for 14 regional airports to a Fraport-led consortium and energy sector-related privatizations and liberalization, is viewed as imperative in demonstrating the embattled government's commitment to meeting memorandum-mandated goals.