A makeover is in store for up to 4,000 buildings in Athens in the runup to next year’s Olympics

Apartment blocks became popular with Athenians in the 1950s, chiefly among internal migrants. They lost some of their prestige in the 1970s, and by the 1988s and 1990s they were spoken of with revulsion. Now – inspired in part by the prospect of the Olympic Games in 2004 – some people have begun to wonder whether the feature that dominates the cityscape and which has aroused such contradictory emotions might not be refurbished, embellished and integrated into the city, and whether the city and its residents might get on better terms with their apartment blocks. Owners’ consent Experts say the buildings can be spruced up, and the Public Works Ministry and the Municipality of Athens decided to get it done. It’s a difficult undertaking since, in addition to the usual problems of finance and procedures, some thousands of owners, without whose consent and participation nothing could be done, had to be persuaded that it was a good idea. In the next few days, the City of Athens will start implementing plans to refurbish 28 apartment blocks in Mavili, Koliatsou and Plastira squares. This first step was preceded by considerable effort. The municipal authorities say they are ready to show that Athens can become beautiful when everybody – residents and local and central authorities – cooperates. The city’s first pilot program of refurbishing facades is already in progress. The scaffolding will go up on buildings in Mavili Square in about a week, to be followed by others in Plastira and Koliatsou squares. If all goes well, 3,000-4,000 facades will have got a makeover by the time of the Olympic Games in Athens; 2,000 of these buildings lie along the Olympic routes and are expected to be included in the Public Works Ministry’s program. The City of Athens is trying to incorporate the rest of the buildings, which lie along arterial roads, into a refurbishment program. The undertaking will depend in large measure on the progress of the municipality’s pilot project. T. Batarias, technical consultant to Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni, told Kathimerini that the cost of sprucing up the 28 buildings in the three squares will come to around 221,000 euros. The cost to the owner of each average-sized apartment will be 140 euros. Owners will pay after the work is completed, in two six-monthly installments. This financial arrangement is particularly attractive, as it represents only about 13 euros per month per owner for a year. And it is possible because the municipality’s technical offices are shouldering the cost of the studies and permits. The project is expected to be ready by late September, as the competition for a contractor has already been completed. Of course, successful implementation will demand months of hard, methodical work. The project began when Bakoyianni sent a letter to 350 owners in the apartment blocks chosen for refurbishment. It continued during many personal meetings with them, gatherings in the three municipal wards concerned with apartment owners and managers of apartment blocks, and it concluded with decisions made at general meetings. The process involved dealing with fears, questions, suspicions and doubts. As the first pilot program gets under way, interest is focusing on other apartment blocks. Athens Municipality has already created a consortium – together with the University of Athens and the city’s development company – to over see the whole project. Now it has to find a way of getting the work done quickly. Two issues still to be resolved are whether the Public Works Ministry will subsidize 30 percent of the cost of refurbishing apartment blocks which are not on Olympic routes, and the final method of funding. What the City of Athens wants is cooperation with banks for low-interest, long-term repayment loans. The desired arrangement is for the person who has a proposal and a study for refurbishing the facade of an apartment block to approach the municipality for official approval, which would then become the legal permit for the work, and could also be taken to the bank to get a loan. Bakoyianni is expected to make further announcements in the next few days. The target is for most of the work to start in September.

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