Maroussi mayor fixes up Olympic ‘home town’

Less than one month remains before the Olympics and even the most delayed of construction projects are showing signs of coming together – except for one. In what has been dubbed the «real home» of the 2004 Olympics, work crews toil night and day in the Athens suburb of Maroussi to change the look of the town before the start of the Games. «We are going for the Prague look,» town spokesman Vassilis Talamangas. Maroussi, where the main Olympic stadium complex is located north of the center, has for the past three months resembled a giant construction site as hundreds of workers feverishly race to tear up the suburb’s streets and replace tarmac with cobblestones. Other than having Maroussi resemble the picturesque capital of the Czech Republic, town officials want to turn the suburb located just a few kilometers north of the stadium into a focal point for the Olympics. «It will be the gathering place for all those people who either can’t get into the stadium or who want somewhere near it to get together,» Talamangas said. He added that giant television screens will be placed in key locations around the town, only two subway stops away from the Olympic complex, to attract residents and visitors who want to party while they watch the Olympics. Although town officials promise construction work will be finished before the Games, many of Maroussi’s 71,000 residents are unhappy with the decision to essentially transform the town center into a giant pedestrian area. Many are also upset that Mayor Panayiotis Tzanikos, who was not available for comment on the project, waited until three months before the Olympics to give their town a radical facelift. Town officials argue the project had to be done before the Games to attract visitors, and cash, to the town. Residents of nearby suburbs are also unhappy. The main avenue linking the northern suburbs with the center of Athens runs through Maroussi and the work has for weeks shut the town to all traffic. As a result, the Maroussi area has the worst traffic jams – and most irate drivers – in all Athens. «It’s a major mistake that all the work in Maroussi started at the same time. It’s created an area which is not car-friendly and turns customers away. Since the work began in January, the central shopping district has lost 75 to 80 percent of business,» said Costas Gardelis, an electrical goods retailer and president of the Maroussi Business Owners Association. Gardelis’s family has been doing business in Maroussi since 1957. At the time, Maroussi was mostly rolling farmland and olive groves. The area abutting the Olympic Stadium complex was named Paradise (Paradeisos) because of its natural beauty. (Much of) Maroussi was still rolling fields when the stadium that forms the core of the Olympic complex was built in the early 1980s. But the stadium brought renewed interest in Maroussi’s open areas and an effort was made by the town to attract business. As a result, Maroussi is now home to the largest collection of steel-and-glass office buildings in Athens. But town officials now hope the Olympics, which drove the decision to tear up the town center, will make Maroussi a prettier place.