After plans by the government to develop the former Hellenikon national airport site on Athens’ coast got only a single bidder as other companies withdrew with complaints the process was flawed, Greece’s opposition party leader threatened to overturn the deal if he comes to power.
The 1482-acre site, abandoned for 13 years, is one of the most attractive for usage in the country and was a linchpin of Greece’s hopes to start bringing in revenues from the stalled effort to sell of state enterprises on the orders of international lenders.
It was supposed to become the biggest urban park in Europe but Greece, desperate for cash during a crushing economic crisis, is trying to sell off its assets and enterprises.
The state privatization agency HRADF said only Greece’s Lambda Development made an offer. It was involved in the building of the Athens Mall that a court said violated the law and imposed penalties or possible demolition. The company said its bid is supported by Abu Dhabi’s Al Maabar and China’s Fosun Group.
HRADF said it will take two weeks to process the bid. A Lamda Development statement said the total investment would be worth more than 7 billion euros ($9.56 billion) and would create tens of thousands of jobs.
It said its project included creating residential, recreation, sporting and cultural facilities at the 620-hectare (1530-acre) former airport, which would include 200 hectares (495 acres) of park. Past governments had pledged to turn the site into a huge park, but did nothing.
Israel’s Elbit Cochin abandoned the tender process on Feb. 25 about the same time that a third bidder, London & Regional Properties, had asked for an extension of four months on the Feb. 27 expiry of the deadline for binding offers.
The Israeli company said it was eager to make an offer but said the draft contract for the sale was clouded and didn’t have sufficient data.
In 2005, the Hellenikon site was set to be developed into green space twice the size of New York’s Central Park but was delayed and as the country ran into a crushing economic crisis plans turned toward development, which has lagged because of the country’s bureaucracy and uncertain investor interest.
The site is seven kilometers from the city’s center along prime seaside frontage and late last year a Metro station opened, making it even more attractive for investors. The plans call now for more buildings and fewer trees and less grass or green space, prompting outcries from environmentalists and mayors of several municipalities.
The government of Qatar earlier pulled out because it wanted direct negotiations with the government and no other bidders involved.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, was pinning a lot of hopes on the sale of the Hellenikon site to kick start a privatization program that was supposed to bring in 50 billion euros ($68.54 billion) but so far has brought in only about 2.6 billion euros, ($3.56 billion).
Main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras blasted the sale as a giveaway of state assets and said if he comes to power he will review the legality of all concession contracts for privatization.
The term of the coalition government that includes the PASOK Socialists, doesn’t run out until 2016 but Tsipiras said the ruling parties will be repudiated in May Greek municipal and European Parliament elections and force early polls.
“Let everyone keep this firmly in mind,” he said at a SYRIZA event: “Wherever the new Parliament finds that the public interest is not protected, we will not hesitate to cancel or review contracts and decisions taken,” he said, the Athens News Agency reported.
He sounded an ominous warning of nationalization and prosecution for current government officials. “Nothing and no one will be forgotten. All those whose actions or omissions have harmed the public interest will face justice’s verdict for their actions and omissions,” he said.
Tsipras also criticized the role of HRADF, accusing it of being “a clique deciding on the future of public wealth without transparency, without Parliamentary supervision and control, as if it were property they inherited from their grandfathers.”
He said that SYRIZA viewed Hellinikon – which successive Greek governments had for years promised and failed to transform into a metropolitan park and greenspace – as “a landmark of the struggles of city movements to defend public spaces” and pointed to a plan drawn up by the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) as a “well-supported and budgeted proposal” that would avert the destruction of the Attic landscape.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, responding to the Leftist leader, said, “Once again, Tsipras is attempting to undermine the country’s exit from the crisis, threatening investors and showing no interest in the creation of thousands of jobs. We shall not allow Elliniko to become his party’s landfill.”