Olympics didn’t change Athens enough

Every city to have hosted the modern Olympic Games inherited improvements in infrastructure, Olympic installations, facelifts, tourism promotion and a better environment through greater green spaces, says a survey by the international consultancy company Jones LangLalle. The survey compared what happened, or didn’t, for the Olympics since 1988, i.e. in Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens and the effects on the real estate market. «Observing the course of the property market in the cities to have hosted the Olympics, the conclusion is that benefits are significant, indirect and usually require plenty of patience to be seen,» the report noted. At the same time, the degree of success in the capitalization of Olympic benefits in the post-Olympic period depends on many factors. They are: the competitiveness of the business environment; the quality of the tourism attracted; the ability to use the know-how gained to attract other important events; the quality of the tourism infrastructure built for the Games; the continuing advertising campaign; and the ability to change habits and behavior. Athens emerges as the champion in new infrastructure. Besides the 16 new permanent sports venues, projects included the new Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, portions of the Attiki Odos and the Hymettus ring road; Kifissos Avenue and the Faliron junction; the suburban railway; the tram and, partly, the metro. On the other hand, Athens gets low marks on its facelifts. Programs by the City of Athens and the Public Works Ministry for changing the look of blocks of flats on central avenues and squares, unifying archaeological sites and pedestrianizing the city’s historic center may have been positive initiatives, but were not enough. Athens has missed its best chance to rebuild its relationship with its natural frontier, the sea, and become a greener and friendlier capital for its people. Notably, the pre-Olympics plan of 2000, according to proposals made then by the Public Works Ministry and the Athens Regulatory Plan Organization, provided for the host city to plant millions of new trees and bushes, of which less than 10 percent actually materialized, as all green projects were essentially considered to have been simply decorative in character. Most cities to undertake the staging of the world’s greatest show already had some installations ready beforehand. Athens, however, was the sole city to virtually build entirely new sports venues to host the Olympic Games. This sent the costs skyrocketing, while the entire bill was footed by the state, leading to an oversupply of sports installations which may even compete in their use in the post-Olympic period, as Christos Hadziemmanouil, president of Olympic Properties SA, had repeatedly warned. The government’s program for the utilization of the installations provides for them to maintain their public character, while also stressing that cooperation with the private sector is essential. The program foresees the creation of culture and sports venues with supportive commercial uses that will render them centers for recreation and for the development of their surrounding areas. Olympic Properties is proceeding with inspections of the installations and the arrangement of any issues outstanding, while tenders are being put out for «mature» installations, such as the Aghios Cosmas sailing center, the Badminton Center, the Canoe-Kayak Slalom Center and the International Broadcasting Center. Hadziemmanouil suggests that «it might have been wiser to have built fewer installations, as the city has different needs before and after the Games,» noting that in the construction phase there was little planning for their post-Olympic use. Conclusions The effects of such an event on the property market’s various domains are almost always positive, depending on the maturity of the market and its ability to capitalize on the effects in the long term, as benefits are indirect. The immediate effect is on construction activity, the speed of absorbing new developments and the levels of sale and rental rates. In Greece, the new infrastructure projects have transformed the real estate map, with new sought-after areas emerging, pushing prices much higher. The impact on housing is in the short-term rise in sale and rental prices close to new infrastructure projects, and in the long-term effect from the creation of new housing centers. The full impact depends on the size and the maturity of the host city, with Seoul and Barcelona recording great price shifts of up to 300 percent, in contrast to Atlanta and Sydney. In Athens, the effect fell somewhere in the middle. A city’s promotion and infrastructure also attract foreign companies leasing office space, although without a competitive business environment and all the other factors that draw foreign investors, those elements are not enough. Athens’s office market is considered small and immature, so the impact of the Games is limited, as the market lacks the potential to attract enough investors to change the picture.

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