Initiative taken to utilize idle Olympic facilities

For the past 10 months, organizers of the Athens 2004 Olympics have watched helplessly as the glow of a successful Games has dimmed and boarded-up facilities have needed millions of euros to keep them from falling into disrepair. On July 8, nearly a year after the Games opened in Athens, the Greek government put the first batch of its costly Olympic venues out for long-term lease. Hellenic Olympic Properties, the state-owned company that manages over a dozen former Games sites across the country, has invited offers for three facilities in a sign the city is remodeling itself after the 2004 Olympics. Seen by the company as potentially the most lucrative of the three, the Hellenikon canoe and kayak course is touted as a profitable water park in a city with a lifelong beach craze. Hellenic Olympic Properties also has high hopes for the International Broadcasting Center, the 70,000 square meter behemoth that housed world TV and radio crews during the Games. The third venue, the Goudi badminton hall, has already hosted shows and should have no problem finding investors interested in sports and cultural events, the company reasons. The Aghios Cosmas sailing marina, where the government has authorized the building of a small number of five-star rooms, is next in line for lease. Greek taxpayers are currently paying an estimated 100 million euros a year to maintain the venues, only a handful of which have seen regular usage since the Games. But reducing public expenditures at a time when Greece is already coming to terms with an Olympics price tag of at least 9 billion euros is only part of the challenge. In addition to trying to recast itself as a viable weekend destination on the strength of its revamped transport and hotel facilities, Athens has the reputation of its real estate market at stake. «There is tremendous interest from Greek and foreign investors in the venues,» says Lambros Anagnostopoulos, managing director of Lamda Development real estate developers. «[But] if foreign investors lose money on Olympic properties the way others have lost money in Greek real estate deals in the past, they will never come back,» he told AFP. The government recently passed legislation aiming at better facilitating the issuance of construction permits, hoping to cut through a tangle of red tape that normally bedevils investment in Greece. But the venue lease terms issued on July 8 could still put private investors on a collision course with local activists, who have signaled their intention of opposing any attempt at further construction near their homes. The tenders entitle successful bidders to «perform works necessary for the implementation of their business plan, subject to compliance with applicable laws and permitted uses.» (AFP)

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