Plans for Pireos Street will transform what is now a seedy industrial area near city’s heart

The corner of Pireos Street and Iera Odos, the hub of the two avenues’ nightclub strips, is one of the most depressing areas of the city of Athens. A large abandoned neoclassical building, even uglier by daylight, marks the spot where, according to an optimistic but nevertheless realistic plan, a transformation is soon to take place. The Environment and Public Works Ministry has announced a renovation of Pireos Street with an emphasis on historic, listed buildings which will be put to use as residences, shops (apart from supermarkets and department stores), offices, banks, insurance companies, public utilities, restaurants and traditional cafes, cultural venues, public spaces, sporting venues, and centers for education and administration. Not included are hotels, warehouses and car repair shops. According to the amended zoning plan set out in a new presidential decree drafted by the ministry for the municipalities of Athens, Tavros, Aghios Ioannis Rendi, Moschato and Piraeus, the design should provide for specific elements. Along the entire street, new buildings are to be sited 15 meters back from the road as long as there is room to construct a building of at least nine meters in length. The space between the building and the road must be left open, planted with greenery and not used as parking space, with only one entrance per building and one entrance and exit for underground parking. The street as it is now is lined with unused properties owned by private individuals, banks and foundations and at least 20 large state-owned sites. The general impression is one of abandonment. The character of Pireos Street has evolved over the years in a number of ways. The first town plans for the modern city of Athens in the 19th century called for the royal palace to be built near Omonia and Kerameikos, so the region became a focal point for the middle and upper classes. However, once the palace was built on its site near the top of Ermou Street and the British-Greek silk factory opened at Metaxourgeio, the decline had begun. The first step in the area’s transformation into an industrial zone was the construction of the gasworks (now a cultural center). At the end of the 19th century, the first factories appeared along the street. Between the two World Wars and after the mass influx of refugees from Asia Minor, the district began to assume its present form as an urban industrial area of which it still bears traces. «A number of years ago a survey was made by a Greek-Italian group to refurbish Pireos Street with an emphasis on buildings of historic interest, but it was filed away,» said Professor Anni Vrychea of the National Technical University’s School of Architecture. Most of the ruined buildings along Pireos Street between Omonia and Iera Odos have been classified as listed. «If the state provides sufficient incentives to refurbish them, then we will be moving in the right direction,» said Nikos Belavilas, a lecturer in town planning also at the NTU’s Architecture School. The stretch of Pireos that lies within the Municipality of Athens has benefited from work by the Unification of Archaeological Sites. Along the southern section, the nearby construction of Kifissou Avenue has led to a major upheaval in the property market which has translated into a rush on listed properties. «What we must safeguard is the prevalence of commercial entertainment in the area north of Pireos Street and the residential districts of Metaxourgeio, Rouf, Gazohori and Tavros,» said Belavilas.