NEWS

Combining infrastructure and the arts to develop urban and cultural tourism

The outgoing administration of the Culture Ministry (YPPO) was fairly ambivalent, approving the modest 108-million-euro infrastructure scheme that Patras proposed but then apparently forgetting about it, so that nothing has been done. Briefed by the organizers yesterday, newly appointed Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis asked them to produce a new, realistic plan that meets the needs of the people of Patras. «The issue is not to organize a year of brilliant cultural events,» said Mikroutsikos, speaking to Kathimerini last week, «but to make the most of the opportunity the institution offers us to further the economic development of the area.» «And we’ll try to do that by developing tourism,» explains Pefanis, «because this is a strong area with lots of assets for urban and cultural tourism.» Cultural triangle «Patras is at the center of a triangle of unique archaeological interest, the highlights of which are Delphi, Olympia and Epidaurus,» says Mikroutsikos. «It has a port which links Greece to Europe and through which 1.4 million tourists go every year. This year will also have the added benefit of the Rio-Antirio bridge, which is said to be the most important of its kind in Europe. If all these factors are properly exploited and effectively connected with Patras 2006, together with the infrastructure works and the publicity the area will get, then there will be great development in tourism. Take the example of the Edinburgh Festival. In 21 days the city triples its population of 400,000 and brings in 2.3 billion euros, which is the motive force for its economy for the whole year. That’s what we are aiming at and that’s why we say the fate of the whole area is hanging in the balance.» A development company has been set up for Patras as the European Cultural Capital. Mayor Andreas Karavolas is the managing director and board members include Pefanis, members of the prefecture, the dean of the university, the former mayor, and representatives of YPPO and the National Tourism Organization (EOT). The board and Mikroutsikos are responsible for the cultural events program and its promotion. The infrastructure projects will be implemented by existing agencies, chiefly the municipality. Patras proposed a «sensible infrastructure program,» says Pefanis, «which was accepted by YPPO, which announced that 108 million euros was available. We asked for 30 million euros for the events, but we haven’t had a ministerial decision on that. All told, we are asking for about 132 million euros. May I remind you that when Thessaloniki was Cultural Capital of Europe in 1997 it received the equivalent of 455 million euros, over three times as much, if not more at today’s values. The difference is that we here, being a bit more prudent, presented a sensible program of projects without overdoing the building or being parochial.» The projects that are still outstanding are fairly well known: – Work on the former Ladopoulos factory complex (the planned site of the concert hall, exhibitions venues, workshops for making carnival costumes, sales points and cafes); – Construction of an open 3,000-seat theater, which the city lacks, in Samatia; – Other works (such as a youth recreation center) at the EOT campsite in Agyia; – Refurbishment of various old buildings in the city – the public baths, the Argyri Agora, the Karaghiozi museum and theater (a great tradition in Patras), the old Municipal Hospital, and the Bari and Kolla warehouses. «There are specific proposals for each site. The company that is to provide technical advice is being set up now and it will deal with just that, seeing how practicable each of our suggestions are. Then the final decisions will be made,» says Pefanis, «but I fear we won’t manage to have all the projects ready by 2006.» First of all, this is because there is no money, as Pefanis explains. «The comparison with Thessaloniki in 1997 is overwhelming. As of 1995, billions of drachmas were available, yet despite that they didn’t manage to become one of the institution’s successes. Given all that, perhaps we should be pessimistic, but since we have the expertise plus our unjustified Mediterranean optimism, I think we’ll do well. The presence of Thanos Mikroutsikos as artistic director and his general acceptance by the city is a serious advantage.» So how did the problematic situation arise? «YPPO didn’t activate the procedures for disbursing funds,» says Pefanis. «The priority given to the Olympic Games has certainly hurt us. We were treated as a secondary consideration. Now we must find out the new government’s attitude as a matter of urgency. The sum and the infrastructure works may have been approved, but that can be canceled on any pretext. I don’t think there’ll be a problem, because it is understood by politicians here and in Athens that Patras and Greece are hosting a European institution on which significant benefits for the area depend.» «The issue at the moment,» says Mikroutsikos, «is for the government to confirm the previous administration’s commitment and to begin disbursement, because there is no room left to maneuver. If the delays lead to failure, if we lose the opportunity for economic development that is being offered, then those responsible deserve to be strung up in the main square.»