Rejected site back in contention

Judging by the latest developments, it appears likely that the Panathinaikos soccer club, one of Greece’s two biggest clubs in terms of popularity and success, will soon be given official permission to construct a new home stadium within parkland in the capital’s Goudi district. Despite the club’s interest, the plan had been shelved by the previous government in response to protests by environmental protection groups, municipalities, and local residents. The latest reports, however, indicate that Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias and his aides were pushing to resolve the issue by the end of this year, with the Goudi site figuring as the most likely choice. For some time now, Panathinaikos has been striving to move from its outdated downtown facility on Alexandras Avenue to a modern home ground with greater capacity. The Athens club began applying further pressure for a solution after rival team Olympiakos struck a deal with the previous PASOK government for a new home ground. Olympiakos, led by entrepreneur Socrates Kokkalis, rebuilt the state-owned Karaiskaki Stadium, its home ground, in time for the Athens Olympics in exchange for a 49-year lease. For Panathinaikos, the likelihood of a total revamp and extension of the old Alexandras Avenue stadium seems remote. Should the club be granted state approval for the Goudi site, it intends to construct a 35,000-seat stadium and parking facilities, as well as adjacent sporting facilities for the club’s other divisions. The Goudi site is owned by the Ministry of Defense. Most of the area has been classified as parkland by the state. The location’s accessibility, facilitated by the recent improvements to the capital’s road infrastructure and a nearby metro station, is the main advantage for Goudi as the final choice. But the location remains overshadowed by the environmental factor, as well as the close proximity of two residential neighborhoods, Papagou and Holargos. Officials at the Public Works Ministry say that a metropolitan park would be developed in the Goudi parkland’s remaining adjacent area should a soccer stadium be constructed there. Moreover, the soccer club’s current home base, located in one of the capital’s most congested areas, would be demolished to allow for the development of a new park and square, according to ministry officials. Athens Municipality, led by Mayor Dora Bakoyannis of the ruling New Democracy party, appears set to offer conditional support for the Goudi alternative. Municipality officials say they would offer consent for a new soccer stadium at Goudi only if the adjacent area is developed into a metropolitan park. The municipality, owner of the Alexandras Avenue property, says that if the Goudi alternative proceeds, it will demolish the existing old stadium for greenery work and a square.