Scheme to heal ?wounded? Athens

Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis signed an agreement with the government on Monday that is set to lead to more than 1.5 billion euros being invested in the regeneration of central Athens in a plan that could lead to downtown stores opening on Sundays.

Kaminis agreed the scheme, to be called ?Athina Xana? (Athens Again), with Development Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Labor Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis. It will see an initial amount of 120 million euros from the European Union structural funds allocated to Greece being spent on the project while another 1.5 billion, also cash from Brussels, is due to be invested between 2014 and 2020.

?There have to be many parallel interventions, which have to do with security, restoring the city to its normal operation and giving emphasis to growth,? Diamantopoulou said as she presented the scheme.

?We have to show the city?s beautiful side as well because it continues to be a great city, even though it is a wounded goddess,? added the minister.

Projects for the first phase of the scheme are due to be tendered over the next six to nine months with the aim of being completed by the end of 2015.

The projects will have several broad themes. The first will be to boost entrepreneurial activity. This will involve three abandoned hotels, the Megas Alexandros, Bageion and Olympia, around Omonia Square being refurbished and rented to innovative start-ups.

Another theme is improving the quality of life of city center residents. To achieve this, authorities plan to build more nursery schools, health centers, homeless shelters and centers for disabled children. These services will be installed in buildings owned by social security funds. More cycle lanes were also pledged. In addition, there will be attempts to improve infrastructure, such as 11 squares and numerous sidewalks.

It has also been proposed that stores in the municipality of Athens, which covers the wider downtown area, be allowed to open on Sundays. This move appears to have the backing of the Athens Traders Association but is opposed by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE).

?Any exception to the rule [on Sunday openings] is unconstitutional and leads to unfair competition,? ESEE president Vassilis Korkidis told Kathimerini.