ECONOMY

Obstacles to media village are cleared

Lamda Development, the Latsis group’s real estate company, has finally been given the go-ahead for the construction of one of the media villages for the 2004 Olympics. The Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works provided the building permit a few days ago and construction may now begin. Lamda Development also appears to have overcome various legal challenges to the project. One case, involving so-called «concerned citizens» of Maroussi, the northern suburb in which the village will be built, came to an unexpected end last week when the plaintiffs failed to appear before the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. The case involved the legality of the transfer of a 95 percent share in the Maroussi Municipal Corporation, which owned the site on which the media village will be built, to Lamda Development. The case appeared to have a political goal as well, namely to weaken the position of the current mayor of Maroussi, Panayiotis Tzanikos. All his rivals in last month’s mayoral election, including a former ally who had defected, had supported the legal action. The non-appearance of the plaintiffs before the court may have had something to do with Tzanikos’s easy re-election in a runoff. This kind of legal recourse has plagued many Olympic projects and may be the primary reason for their delay. Lamda Development appears confident it will build the village on time. Lamda Olympic Village, a «special purpose vehicle» subsidiary set up to build and operate the project, will build 300 apartment houses, a commercial and leisure center with a total area of 70,000 square meters, and will landscape the village. After the 2004 Olympics, the houses will be sold to private individuals. Many have already expressed an interest in buying. Currently, Lamda Development is negotiating with foreign construction and property development companies interested in acquiring a share in the project. Four other media villages will be constructed to accommodate some 20,000 media representatives. If the media villages are now proceeding smoothly, this is not the case with the private accommodation of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to arrive in 2004. With most of Athens’s limited hotel space taken up by Olympic delegations, the idea of renting private apartments emerged as an alternative. However, the Economy Ministry’s insistence on a 10 percent tax, to be paid in advance, is paving the way for private operators – mostly travel agents – to make their own direct, under-the-table deals.