Hard landing for Hellenikon grand plans

It was in 1995, after the contract for the new airport at Spata had been signed, that the old airport at Hellenikon began the countdown toward its conversion to a metropolitan park. In September of the same year, the Organization of Athens assigned the study for the airport’s transformation to a National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) team headed by Ludwig Wassenhofen. The NTUA team came up with successive reports (Phase A in 1996 and Phase B in 1999) that set aside part of the area for housing development in order to fund the creation and maintenance of green spaces. At the same time, it proposed keeping most of the airport buildings and renovating them for new functions. But the idea of a park effectively went to the wall in 2000-2001 when a desperate search for suitable Olympic sites led to the building of new venues on the old airport grounds. Originally envisaged as temporary constructions, the buildings later acquired a permanent nature (in favor of some contractors, of course). Thus, apart from the transformation of Olympic Airways hangars into indoor stadiums, hockey, baseball and softball fields were added. As was the canoe-kayak course and its artificial lake, admittedly the most aesthetically pleasing of the Olympic venues on the site. These venues, covering a total of 100,000 square meters (without counting ancillary areas), were recently handed over to Olympic Properties and are awaiting prime-ministerial pronouncements on their fate. Since a further 325,000 square meters are covered by buildings which will not be demolished due to financial constraints, and the park plans provide for the development of hotel and conference centers, the question is what then remains that can be turned into park? Without question, the Hellenikon airport site and the old racecourse are the most attractive pieces of real estate in Athens. Since the government has ruled out the creation of a park with public funds, the most likely outcome is that green spaces will be of secondary importance to other uses. In any case, extant plans envisage 100 hectares of residential development, the equivalent of 10,000 apartments of 100 square meters each, not including ancillary areas.

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