ECONOMY

Church planning massive Vouliagmeni investment

Hotels, tourist accommodation, a conference center, spa, health center, golf course, restaurants, a cinema, bars, retail stores and other spaces dedicated to entertainment or the history of Attica are but some of the features included in a large-scale investment planned for an 8.5-hectare expanse in the southern Athenian coastal resort of Lemos at Vouliagmeni, which is owned by the Athens Archbishopric.

The investment is expected to be in a similar style to that of the luxurious Costa Navarino resort developed by shipping magnate Vassilis C. Constantakopoulos in the southern Peloponnese, while representatives of the Church of Greece have already met with a team sent by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, who has expressed an interest in the investment.

Kathimerini has also learned that an American and a Russian group have also expressed an interest in investing in the development of this prime piece of real estate, though this expression has only been verbal and the Church will need to see the proposals in writing before reaching any conclusions.

The pace of developments for the Lemos investment has picked up since October, following a visit to Qatar by Archbishop Ieronymos, where he met with Sheikh Hamad. Meanwhile, in late November, close associates of the emir met in Greece with the president of the Church?s financial services department, Vassileios, Metropolitan of Elassona, and the department?s general director Antonios Avramiotis.

Once the Qatari proposal receives the green light from the Holy Synod, a team of representatives will be flying to the Gulf state to seal the deal, which, according to information, may be extended to also include other Church property holdings.

The wealthiest Church metropolises in Greece are those of Attica, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Kesariani, Megara, Mesogeia, Neapoli, Nea Ionia, Nea Krini, Nea Smyrni, Nikaia, Piraeus and Peristeri. Among the assets they hold that can be used to generate revenues are properties that have been made over to the Church, donations by expatriate Greeks, monasteries and points of pilgrimage. The Archbishopric of Athens, meanwhile, is the wealthiest of them all.

A close aid to the archbishop assured Kathimerini that the aim of the investment is to contribute to the local economy and to maintain the natural environment, which is why the Church is looking at a Costa Navarino-style development that combines luxury with sustainable development and environmental protection. The associate, who preferred to remain anonymous, also said the plan not only includes the construction of hotels, but also holiday residences, a sector that remains contentious in Greece.

The aid added that the Archbishopric has no intention of selling any of its assets and assured that the Church?s Vouliagmeni Orphanage, which was opened in May 1920, will not be demolished but will instead be included in the development. The Qataris, meanwhile, have also said that they would be interested in acquiring the historic Asteras Vouliagmenis Hotel should it be put up for sale.

The Lemos investment is one of many plans the Church of Greece is putting forward to boost diminishing revenues by utilizing its assets.

For example, the Athens Archbishopric posted losses of over 760,000 euros in the January-August period, while revenues from rent for the entire Church of Greece dipped in 2010 to 9.1 million euros from 12.5 million euros on average in previous years after the Church agreed to a 20 percent reduction in rental fees. Donations to the Church are also down by 30 percent, while its 9 million euros of shares in Greek banks have lost around 97 percent of their overall value since 2008.