Olympic coastal zone out of bounds

Ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, many promises were made about the Olympics-triggered transformation of Faliron: an ecological park and artificial lake, pedestrian areas, canals, sport facilities, an aquarium, a lake with eateries and pedestrian overpasses were all agreed upon. Today most of the Games’ venues are both dilapidated and out of each to residents. Projects to create green spaces and free communal areas (such as an ecological park) never happened and vaunted projects, such as the esplanade that crosses over the coastal road, are in decline. Faliron and Hellenikon are deserted, the foliage on the trees has gone yellow and hopes have been dashed. The Olympic venues are full of garbage and the state can no longer pay for maintenance and development. Funds have dried up. The Olympic venues have been taken over by Hellenic Olympic Properties SA, which hopes to lease them out to private contractors for development. To render such a perspective attractive the Olympic venues were designated under Law 3342/05. What taxpayers want to know is why they should have to pay for the provision of services when the venues were built with public money. To become attractive the Olympic venues have assumed commercial activity, restaurants, the hosting of artistic events and so forth. How can all these activities operate effectively when they are so close to each other? Hellenic Olympic Properties SA Board Chairman and CEO Christos Hadziemmanouil believes that «the private sector can manage these areas more effectively than the state sector and this is better for the general good.» He also thinks that «a mixture of small commercial activity, restaurants and snack bars, cultural and sport events as well as conference tourism is an effective, realistic and necessary proposition.» On the coastal strip belonging to the Moschato Municipality, no construction works were carried out as no sport venue had been planned there. Environmental changes were therefore deemed a luxury. Plans to create a 24-hectare ecological park stretching from the Peace and Friendship Stadium to the beach volleyball venue remained on paper. The area has been sorely neglected, trees have withered, and the place is overrun by garbage, dust and rag pickers. Hellenic Olympic Properties intends to turn just over half of the area into a park with pedestrian walkways, cycling lanes and recreation areas. How will the funds be found for this oasis? Hellenic Olympic Properties has put forward three proposals. Firstly for the construction and use of the sports venue to be given to a private contractor (who would be obliged to grant a football pitch to the municipality), while the municipality undertakes the ecological park. Alternatively the private contractor could undertake the park and to offset the expenses incurred have snack bars in the park in addition to the running of the sports centre (which could host events of a cultural, political or commercial nature). Privatization though might not be a viable solution as there are strong competitors right next door. The other two suggestions were for the project to be completed by either the municipality alone or by the government using state funds. Matter of money For Moschato Municipality, finding funds for the project is difficult. Municipal council chairperson Despina Loukaki highlighted that «what is important is for the seafront to be accessible to the public. We have not decided on a specific proposal. We have set up a five-member committee to examine the issue, although it will be dealt with after the elections.» Residents of coastal municipalities should consider themselves lucky to be right next to the sea. But in fact the municipalities of Kallithea, Moschato and Hellenikon have no access to the seafront. Poseidonos Avenue and the tram have cut off these areas from a seafront that is now in a very rundown state. Unfortunately the Ministry of the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) has no plans as yet to link Moschato with the sea and coastal zone. In Hellenikon the seafront has been enclosed by railings and there is a fee of 10 euros to enter the Aghios Cosmas beach. After considerable pressure was applied, a special agreement was reached whereby residents of Hellenikon could enter free of charge but only from Monday to Friday between 8.30-1.30 a.m. Kallithea has good views of the coastal Olympic complex (including the sailing marina), which was built right on its seafront but it has no right of use. Hellenic Olympic Properties is to hand over the sailing marina and a part of the buildings to the Sailing Federation. A special permit will soon be signed and the marina will start to operate. Hellenic Olympic Properties will receive 12 percent of the payments made to the Federation. The remaining 14 hectares, comprising mainly the beach volleyball arena and buildings, will be given to private contractors for development. But according to Kallithea Mayor Costas Askounis, the 10 outdoor arenas and the football pitch will be under threat if the proposal is implemented. He pointed out that by including the seafront in the deal they were giving away public land and dispensing with the measures to combat flooding in the area. Flood and resulting damage was a real risk. A petition with 15,000 signatures has been submitted to the Council of State. Hadziemmanouil denies that the seafront will be closed off. When the areas are all linked up the barriers will go. Once the planned conference centre in the Tae Kwon Do indoor hall is completed, access to the Esplanade will be unrestricted. The future of the large Hellenikon Olympic Complex, which comprises the canoe-kayak slalom course, the baseball, softball, hockey, basketball and fencing installations and Aghios Cosmas Sailing Centre, has yet to be decided. Under Law 3342/05 the use of the facilities, in addition to sport, has been extended to include retail outlets, restaurants, recreation, exhibitions and so forth. A five-star hotel right on the seafront has also been planned in the area to accommodate the marina’s visitors but this is far from popular with Hellenikon Municipality, as it would create a wall of concrete blocking the sea view. A presidential decree is pending for the Hellenikon complex before any action is taken and only a tender for the 20-hectare canoe-kayak center has been lodged. Hadziemmanouil hopes that the site will be turned into a water park but there is no guarantee that the facilities will keep their sporting purpose. Hellenikon Municipality is against the venues being taken over by private contractors but the issue of funding remains. Hellenikon Deputy Mayor Domna Daskalakou feels that the General Secretariat for Sport and the state should fund the project.