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The sky’s the limit as former Athens airport undergoes transformation into multipurpose recreational and residential zone amid renewed optimism

The former Ellinikon International Airport will soon become one of the most attractive investment opportunities in the capital of Greece.

The grounds of the former Ellinikon International Airport in Athens, Greece are set to be converted into one of the largest recreational parks in the world. The EUR 8 billion project was launched back in the middle of the 2000s, but it was later delayed due to the 2008 crisis and difficulties with the privatisation of the area.

According to the Financial Times, in September 2016 the Greek parliament finally approved and cleared the area for renovation. The result of this massive undertaking will include cultural, shopping and business centres, as well as residential districts, numerous hotels and beaches and the largest European littoral park.

The Ellinikon International Airport
The Ellinikon International Airport area has already been redeveloped in the past: in preparation for the 2004 Olympics, several sports venues were built there

The airport complex ceased operations in 2001 when the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport opened. Several sports venues were built for the 2004 Olympics, but today the area is largely occupied by refugees who have taken shelter in the airport building and at the stadiums.

The final destination: what to expect at Ellinikon

The extent of the redevelopment is truly impressive. The area under reconstruction covers 620 hectares, 200 of which will comprise a massive public park. Despite the changes, the engineers and planners will not abandon the airport’s historical hallmarks: the most valuable buildings will be conserved and converted into museums and exhibition halls, and the runways will in part be transformed into pedestrian zones.

The Olympic heritage of the airport will also be preserved: in addition to the existing venues built for the 2004 Olympics, several new sports facilities will be constructed there.

A series of new underground stations and tram lines connecting the Ellinikon area and the city proper will be opened. There will also be bicycle lanes and footpaths spanning 50 km in total. All this will make both recreation and transportation all the easier for residents and visitors.

The project has already begun attracting foreign investors, including the Chinese conglomerate Fosun International and the Abu Dhabi-based company Eagle Hills Properties.

Preparing to take flight: conditions for realising the project

The Ellinikon renovation project did not emerge in the best economic or political conditions for takeoff. In the middle of July 2016, a coup d’état attempt took place in Turkey, and Greece itself remains mired in the troubled wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

According to the Hellenic Statistical Authority, between Q2 2015 and Q2 2016 the country's GDP fell by 0.9%; in July 2016, the unemployment rate ran at 23.2%, and the construction volume has decreased by 72% since July 2015. According to the Bank of Greece, property prices – especially property in Athens and Thessaloniki – showed a downward trend in early 2016.

Property prices have fallen furthest in the largest cities, namely Athens

Despite such gloomy conditions, the European Commission anticipates Greece's GDP will grow by 2.7% YOY in 2017, which is encouraging. The optimism concerning Greece is based primarily on the national government carrying out consistent reforms.

What is more, tourism became one of the most promising industries amid the crisis: according to Greek real estate market observers, it is precisely the tourism segment of the property market that may contribute most to Greece’s economic recovery and growth.

As conceived by the developers, the conversion of the Ellinikon airport grounds will entail generating 10,000 construction-related jobs during the project term and result in over 75,000 new jobs afterwards. The project should attract billions of euros in foreign investment across a 12-year horizon.

According to expert estimates, the park will draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to Greece annually and boost the country's overall attractiveness to investors. The reconstruction of Ellinikon will also influence local property prices, nudging them up – particularly in the southern suburbs of Athen – as the project advances.

Anna Bratinkova, Tranio.com

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