LIFE

Niarchos Foundation backs cultural park plan

DIMITRIS RIGOPOULOS

Within the next 12 months, the Greek government is expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, launching the biggest cultural infrastructure project ever to be seen in the country: the construction of new premises for the National Library and a Greek National Opera house on a 200,000 square meter plot at the former racetrack in Faliron. Plans also include a green area that will host cultural, educational and entertainment activities. Last Friday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis received a letter from foundation board member Andreas Drakopoulos outlining the foundation's offer. Afterward, the government announced that the cost of the studies and the construction and equipping of the new venues would be met by the foundation exclusively. Once the venues are up and running, the responsibility for their operation will pass into the hands of the state. The meeting last week at the prime minister's residence, Maximos Mansion, made the foundation's intentions official. Both the government announcement and the note to Sunday's press from the foundation make it clear that before the final agreement is signed there will be a preliminary study carried out to examine all the parameters of the project, in cooperation with all the relevant ministries and state services. «Provided that this phase is successfully completed - based on the judgment of our board of directors - only then would our foundation be able to commit fully in order to materialize these projects and to sign the relevant memorandum of understanding with mutually agreed upon terms and presumptions for all parties involved, to guarantee the projects' finest possible operation,» said the press release from the Niarchos Foundation. If all goes according to plan, construction work will not be completed before 2013 at the earliest. The idea was initially conceived in 1999 when the foundation considered funding the construction of a new National Library. Once the idea matured and the relevant ministries became involved, the hunt for the location began, but ran into several obstacles. The idea for the coastal strip of the Faliron delta was first introduced by the government itself. But in 2005, authorities began thinking more and more that maybe the same space could also house a Greek National Opera house as well as a cultural park. Discussions on the project were put on the front burner and the public works minister briefed the mayor of Kallithea, to which the delta area belongs. The final plan for the cultural park foresees two building of 60,000 square meters, leaving 14 hectares free for building a green strip. Kallithea Mayor Costas Askounis, who spoke to Kathimerini about the issue, appeared skeptical and asked for a common policy on the coastal strip and the former racetrack.

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