Big dreams and angry protests swirl at abandoned Athens airport

Thu Jun 26, 2014 6:26am EDT
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By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - After languishing for over a decade as a wasteland of crumbling terminals and rusting airplanes, Athens' sprawling former airport complex is set for resurrection as a glitzy coastal resort.

The 7-billion-euro plan to develop Hellenikon - a complex three times the size of Monaco - is one of Europe's most ambitious real estate projects and stands to be a major boost for a nation limping back to growth after nearly going bankrupt.

To those with long memories, the site conjures up its 1960s jet-set heyday when shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis ran Olympic Airlines in lavish style and his partner at the time, opera diva Maria Callas, added a dash of glamour and gossip.

But those days are long gone and the project faces criticism now from the main leftist opposition and locals, both of whom fear the luxury development could turn into a concrete jungle out of reach for ordinary Greeks.

Efforts by successive governments in recent years to turn the 620-hectare (1,520 acre) plot into a profitable venture have all fallen through, including plans in 2011 to build a financial district similar to London's Canary Wharf with Qatari backing. The Gulf state pulled out of the project last year.

Lamda Development, controlled by Greece's powerful Latsis family and leading a consortium of Chinese and Abu-Dhabi based companies, however, has big dreams for the area since signing a 915 million euro deal for a 99-year lease in March.

AMBITIOUS PLANS   Continued...

A runway is seen at the former Athens International airport of Hellenikon June 17, 2014.     REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis