Panathinaikos stadium seems set for a downtown solution

Following a long period of disputes and controversy regarding a new stadium for the Panathinaikos club’s soccer, basketball and volleyball divisions, a downtown Athens location, just over a kilometer from Omonia Square in the Votanikos inner district, now appears to be the likeliest option available to the club. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis, affiliated with the ruling conservative New Democracy party, and key club officials reached consensus on the project and its prospective site at a meeting yesterday. «We made clear that all concerned parties want to proceed together for the Votanikos location,» the Athens mayor said. Bakoyannis said a task force would immediately get to work to examine the project’s details, including financing, so that «not a single day is wasted.» In the past, Panathinaikos, one of the country’s two largest clubs in terms of popularity and success, has considered various options. They have included Goudi, an alternative that was shelved by the previous government after prompting much negative reaction over residential and environmental concerns, as well as Hellenikon, where the Greek capital’s international airport used to be located. Panathinaikos, which is expected to self-finance construction of its new stadium, had been asked to submit its preferences by the end of January. The club’s soccer division currently hosts matches at the Leoforos Alexandras stadium, an outdated venue which, earlier this season, was ruled out as inappropriate for Champions League competition by UEFA, the prestigious club-level event’s organizer and European soccer’s governing body. «This is the first time that a location fit for all prospects exists,» Yiannis Vardinoyiannis, a major shareholder of the club’s soccer division, noted yesterday. «I hope that, very soon, united and with the support of the state, work will begin on this major project called Panathinaikos Stadium,» he added. According to sources, the project’s Votanikos option was discussed during a meeting between the Athens mayor and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis a couple of nights ago. Karamanlis, the sources said, appeared to agree with the Votanikos proposal. Panathinaikos has stepped up its lobbying for a top-grade complex ever since rival club Olympiakos struck a deal with the previous PASOK government for the self-financed reconstruction of Karaiskaki Stadium in time for last summer’s Athens Olympics in exchange for a long-term lease. Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said yesterday that he felt confident the prospective project would proceed, while adding that it would be supported by his ministry. The Athens mayor noted, «We’re relying on the government for this major and ambitious yet feasible plan.» When asked whether the capital’s municipality would contribute financially to the project, Bakoyannis responded that it already had as the prospective site belongs to the municipality.

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