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Sonntag, 23.06.2024
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Along the coast of Athens, a vast complex of homes, hotels, marinas and more is taking shape

On the southern coast of the Greek capital, a long-awaited plan to transform the city’s former airport into Europe’s largest smart city is finally gaining momentum.

After a decade of delays, a vision for the Ellinikon emerges. The Marina Tower, soon to be Greece’s first skyscraper, is starting to rise. Iron skeletons of apartments are taking shape. Standing at the marina, overlooking the Saronic Gulf on one side and the tower on the other, it is possible to imagine the future city, which will have the open spaces, sustainable energy sources and abundant green spaces that Athens currently lacks.

“There was legitimate disbelief” in the early days of the project, Odisseas Athanasiou said in an interview. Athanasiou is the CEO of Lamda, the developer behind the multifunctional development.

Spread over 6,200 hectares, a 20-minute drive outside Athens, Ellinikon will transform both the coastline and the land. It’s the kind of project you normally see in China or the United Arab Emirates, and a sign of Greece’s post-crisis revival and subsequent investor enthusiasm. Developers predict it will add 2.5 percentage points to Greece’s gross domestic product, create as many as 80,000 new jobs and generate tax revenues of more than €10 billion after its completion in 2037. It is also expected to generate an annual million additional tourists, who will be able to choose between a Mandarin Oriental hotel and an integrated casino-resort for their stay.

Greece’s tourism sector has recovered since the Covid era, with 32 million visitors last year and 2024 on track for record arrivals.

For those who want to stay permanently, 243 units are already for sale and 140 have been reserved. The Marina Tower apartments, villas and beachfront apartments were the first to sell out, with Lamda announcing earlier this month that proceeds from property sales in March last year reached €641 million. The majority of buyers are of Greek nationality and the city is expected to house as many as 20,000 people in around 10,000 homes within the next thirteen years.

Using the urban planning concept of the 15-minute city, Ellinikon residents will have access to schools, parks, offices, shops and even the beach in less than fifteen minutes. Software to monitor waste, water and energy services will be distributed throughout the complex. “It’s a smart city from start to finish,” Athanasiou said, adding, “we like to call it ‘Zip Code Paradise.’”

The process of getting Ellinikon off the ground did not go smoothly. When Lamda bought the plot of land in 2014, parts of it were littered with the ruins of the former airport – including abandoned planes – while other parts housed refugees and undocumented migrants. The beach was dotted with entertainment venues and long-forgotten sports facilities. Delays in the permitting process further spiraled things out of control, and the fact that Greece was effectively bankrupt when the project was proposed made it even more unlikely that it would ever get off the ground.

“We had a construction sector in Greece that was at a ten-year low due to the crisis,” Athanasiou explains. “People had left the country and construction companies were no longer as strong as they used to be. Higher construction costs due to the energy crisis following the incident in Ukraine contributed to this situation.”

While these challenges have abated, Lamda still faced a labor shortage. About 7,000 employees will be needed when construction of the Ellinikon shopping center starts next year. Lamda currently has about 2,000 employees and is in advanced discussions with contractors about importing construction workers from other countries.

Still, Athanasiou described the company’s biggest challenge as its “lack of credibility.” Before construction began, the CEO said, “you had a bankrupt country, a huge project even by European standards, let alone Greece, and a company that had never taken on such a project.”

However, these obstacles have gradually disappeared as the new city has become a reality.

By the end of summer, seven new apartment buildings will be visible from the coast, next to the skyscraper under construction. By the end of the year, those high-rises will reach a height of 100 meters (330 feet) and the number of residential buildings under construction on the coast will increase to 15. By the end of 2025, a sports center with football fields, tennis courts and swimming pools open to the public.

“By Christmas 2026,” Athanasiou said, “we want residents to be able to live in their homes.”

As the Greek economy recovers from the decade-long crisis, there is also renewed interest from investors. The country was awarded investment grade status by two of the three major rating companies in the past year, and investors flocked to the Athens Stock Exchange in a successful initial public offering from Athens International Airport and the sale of shares in the country’s main banks country.

Despite rising almost 16% in 2023, Lamda shares are stuck around €7, which Athanasiou attributes to the broader pain in the property market. “Our strategic goal is to diversify investment assets, shopping centers and marinas,” the CEO said. The company has been promoting the Ellinikon marinas to potential investors in Britain and the US and is waiting for the right time to launch an initial public offering for its shopping centers.

There is also reason to believe that Ellinikon will be profitable from here on out. Lamda was bought from the Greek state for 915 million euros in 2014 and returned to the black market in 2023. The homes on the beach are now sold for as much as 15,000 euros per square meter. “There is enormous hidden value” in business results, says Athanasiou. Offers for plots around the shopping center and offices have also exceeded €2,000 per square meter. “That’s almost triple the value on our books,” he noted.

In short, there is great optimism. And as for concerns that tourists flocking to Athens may be more interested in the ancient city’s historic offerings than its ultra-modern amenities, Lamda’s CEO isn’t worried.

“Is there any reason why someone visiting Ellinikon would decide not to also visit the Acropolis or Sounio?” Athanasiou wondered. At the same time, “Is there any way that they would hear about a place in the neighborhood with the tallest buildings, five high-rises, a casino resort, and choose to just stay on the Acropolis?”

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Eleni Chrepa

Quelle/Source: Bloomberg, 01.05.2024

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