New AEK stadium on hold

A dispute between the AEK soccer club and municipal authorities appears to have bogged down team plans for the construction of a new stadium in place of the existing Nikos Goumas Stadium. The rift was highlighted yesterday by Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou who said that she would not issue a permit for the old stadium’s demolition unless the two sides reached an agreement. The mayor of the Athens suburb of Nea Philadelphia, Nikos Adamopoulos, is insisting that the new complex be strictly sports-related, without peripheral business ventures, as AEK’s administration wishes. But club officials say that such a proposal would severely dampen the project’s commercial prospects and keep prospective financers away. Last week, AEK announced that it had already made financial arrangements through a syndicated loan from several banks worth 50 million euros, an amount expected to cover much of the project’s entire cost. Club insiders had said that they expected official approval of the new stadium’s plans, and had not ruled out the beginning of demolition and groundwork before the week was out. Adamopoulos showed signs of dissent by noting that he had not been fully informed of the project’s plans. He also expressed concern over the new facility’s environmental and traffic impact in his district and has called for traffic relief infrastructure work. According to reports, Papandreou authorized the project’s permit but nullified it before it went public over concerns of prospective political turmoil. AEK’s president, Yiannis Granitsas, is said to be pressing for a meeting with Papandreou in a bid for her consent. But a meeting with her general secretary, Stavros Kambelis, appears more likely for the time being. Delays would jeopardize the new stadium’s involvement in the Athens 2004 Olympics. Plans entail the venue’s availability as an emergency backup ground for the Olympic soccer final should any complications arise with the intended venue, Karaiskaki Stadium. Moreover, it has already been decided to include AEK’s new venue in the Olympic package as a practice ground. Construction work is expected to last 16 months.

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