High hopes for park at Hellenikon

The government unveiled yesterday a final draft plan to turn the capital's old airport in Hellenikon, southern Athens, into Europe's largest city park in a project that involves selling off about 20 percent of the area to developers to finance the project. The park is seen as helping to provide Athens with a much needed ecological boost, particularly after brush fires burnt about a third of a nearby national park on Mount Parnitha, north of the city. According to the plan, 400 hectares will be made into a park area while 100 hectares will be used to accommodate housing and office facilities. The building activity is expected to earn the government 500 million euros - an amount that will fund the project. The plan also foresees passing Poseidonos Avenue through an underground tunnel, allowing room to connect the park with the beachfront. Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias said that 378 of the 419 small buildings presently at the old airport grounds will be demolished to make way for the planting of trees. «When we talk about a park, we mean a park. Full stop,» said the minister in an attempt to appease critics accusing the government of handing over a large chunk of land to developers. The old airport, which takes up 530 hectares, currently hosts six sports grounds and two training facilities, used for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Tram and bus depots have also started to eat up part of the seaside area and will remain there, according to the plan. Other construction plans include building a new museum of modern art for the Goulandris Institute. The new plans will create a new city with a population of between 15,000 to 20,000 people and not a large park as previously announced, said Hellenikon Mayor Christos Kortzidis. Souflias said he expects the project to take three to four years to complete and that it will be open to visitors as of 2012. Representatives from municipalities surrounding the park have been invited by the ministry to take part in talks on the project.