SOCIETY

Gazi: One Athenian district that seems to be riding out the storm

Even when the crisis was at its worst and the previously popular nightlife hubs in the center of Athens were all but dead, the central neighborhood of Gazi remained a place that could remind you of what the capital looked liked by night before the recession sank its teeth in. True, the vivacity of Gazi is no longer something to wonder at, but even though you can see the marks of changing times it has retained much of its dynamic quality.

Gazi appeared on the scene as a trendy residential area in the late 1990s with the emergence of the loft apartment market, until then unknown in Greece. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the Gazi phenomenon, of its sudden popularity, as it attempted to balance out the one-dimensional development of the entertainment sector (bars, restaurants, cafes) with a series of investments that were of architectural, financial and sociological interest. The area’s new lofts were marketed mainly to singles or couples looking for a different architectural expression of their personal space. One of the greatest advantages of the neighborhood, meanwhile, was its excellent access to public transportation as it has its own metro station (Kerameikos) and major thoroughfares (Pireos and Petrou Ralli) passing close by.

The property market in Gazi, which was still relatively new when the crisis first erupted, has not only survived the economic decline but it has withstood its effects too, according to Giorgos Stamatakis, head of the Alpha Land Developers firm, which specializes in the loft market and builds to this end exclusively in Gazi.

Average prices in the area have dropped by around 30 percent, he says, arguing that demand for lofts remains restricted compared to that for more conventional styles of residence, where supply skyrocketed in the space of just a few years.

For their part, CFCompany architects Stelios Koutsikos and Stamos Fafalios argue that the use of the term “loft” for the style of housing being built in Gazi does not correspond to the real concept of the loft.

They said that while it is a catchy marketing term, what is more important is to maintain the truly refreshing elements being introduced to the way of living and design as demanded by the times and especially by the post-crisis period.

Rental rates have seen a less violent adjustment due to the crisis, says Stamatakis, noting that demand for good-quality housing rentals did not die out completely even during the worst years of the crisis, in 2012 and 2013.

“Customers are not ignorant. Most are very savvy,” he says, adding that the recent improvement in the country’s economic prospects has breathed some new life into the market.

“Since March we have started getting calls from people exploring the market after a very long time, a sign that things are moving,” Stamatakis says.

At CFCompany the architects believe that the market is “on hold,” waiting to see how things will develop in the overall economy.

They say there are areas that they expect to rebound first because of their particular characteristics. “Gazi is one of them – because it is a lively off-center center with a lot of activity, cultural among others, during the day and at night, and attracts young people who have already entered the job market. These are the people who would potentially show an interest in a neighborhood such as this one and who would require a space whose architecture expresses what they want to project and which encourages a new concept of the functionality and aesthetic of the residence.”

For Stamatakis, the real sign of improvement in Gazi lies in the fact that an increasing number of small and medium-sized businesses are looking to relocate or set up shop there.

“This is something new that started tentatively in 2012 and has continued through 2013 and 2014,” he says.

The appearance of new companies in the area has also contributed to it becoming livelier during the day as well as enriching its demographic makeup. But nightlife is still big business in Gazi and in this area the losses from the crisis have been estimated at 25-30 percent in terms of volume. The crisis has also affected the number of visitors to the area’s bars and clubs, which tend to reinvent venues rather than open in new locations.

For the residents of Gazi, the drop in nightlife activity is not necessarily a bad thing, says Panayiotis Tzebelikos, the owner of an apartment in a block built by CFCompany. He says that he made the choice to buy based on the building itself and the quality of the apartment rather than the vicinity. He hopes that the bars and clubs gradually give way to cultural spaces and new residences.

Stamatakis distinguished between buyers and renters. “For renters looking for something fresh, Gazi seems an obvious choice. But buyers will not make a purchase based on aesthetic criteria only; they have demands that are associated with the advantages of making a long-term investment in an area.”