Hotel Building Boom in the Heart of Athens

The Municipality of Athens has issued more than 80 building permits for the historic center, converting old sites into hotels and furnished apartments.


During the decade-long economic crisis in Greece, the construction industry in Athens was decimated. The historic center was hardest hit. Countless buildings were wrapped in storeys high scaffolding and tatty green burlap, fluttering in the breeze – a familiar sight to residents and visitors alike. Construction and renovation works ground to a halt.

Until now.

 

Something is afoot in the Greek capital, as more and more of the scaffolding is being taken down and buildings, once again, become busy construction sites, buzzing with activity.

In a recent announcement, the Municipality of Athens has issued 82 building permits in the historic center over the past four years, signaling a major revival of the urban landscape and a much needed shot in the arm for the construction industry. It transpires that the vast majority of the buildings will be converted into hotels and furnished apartments for short-term leases, catering for the massive pent-up demand for Greek tourism as Europe slowly emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.

News of the building boom has been greeted with enthusiasm by the Mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, dubbing the city a year-round tourist destination. But not everyone has met the news with such zeal.

Residents in the historic center, especially in areas around Syntagma Square, Monastiraki, and Psyrri, where many of the permits have been issued, are concerned that they may lose their view, or suddenly find themselves next to a hotel roof bar. The danger is that accommodation in downtown Athens will become overrun with hotels and apartments for short-term leases, such as Airbnb, and force up rent.

There are also concerns about the increased carbon footprint of hotels in the city center, with greater energy needs, use of water, and impact on the local sewerage system. For Greece to meet its green economy targets, the operational infrastructure of the buildings will need to keep pace with the latest sustainable energy upgrades.

In response, Eugenios Vasilikos, general secretary of the Athens, Attica and Argosaronikos Hoteliers Association, said: “The main problem in the city center is not the hotels but the uncontrolled development of short-term leases. There are many hotels in city centers around the world. The tourist infrastructure is always focused there. But let’s not forget that during the decade of financial crisis, about 80 to 100 hotels in Attica were closed.”

Investment and growth

There is little doubt that the Greek capital is in need of investment, following years of economic crisis and the pandemic. The recent spike in interest from Greek and foreign investors in the hotel and hospitality sector, and tourist infrastructure in general, will provide a major boost to the economy.

But the over reliance on tourism to the detriment of living standards for residents in the heart of the city is a perennial problem. “The removal of ministries and large services from the center and the provision of incentives for the construction of large malls, which affects retail, has reduced services provided to the residents in the city center, including the closure of small shops and local schools,” explains Kostis Hatzimichalis, Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography at Harokopio University in Athens.

 

Nevertheless, the Mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis feels that this is an era of opportunity for the city. “This is Athens’ moment, as it was 10 years ago for Lisbon, and earlier for Berlin and Barcelona,” he enthuses. “The big challenge is to make the change without losing our soul. There is a clear and visible danger that Athens could develop into an archaeological or Neoclassical Disneyland, which would exile the permanent residents and stifle sustainable economic development. On the contrary, we must work together – state, local government, and institutions – to design comprehensive policies for the protection of the urban landscape, with the permanent residents at its core.”

Social housing – housing provided for people on lower incomes – will also play an important role in the discussion moving forward. “In a recent pan-European architectural competition, two of the first three prizes were for the conversion of buildings into social housing,” Bakoyannis added. “We are preparing a program and will submit it as a proposal to the government for the utilization of part of the building stock in Athens for social housing.”

With information from kathimerini.gr.



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