- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

ATHENS — As the national euphoria over last month’s successful Olympic Games recedes, officials are totaling up a bill for the extravaganza that is likely to burden Greek taxpayers for a generation.

The government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis also is pondering how best to make use of the extensive transportation infrastructure and athletic facilities built for the games.

Estimates of the final cost of the Olympics are rising almost daily, blamed on staggering security expenditures and delays in starting a number of essential projects.

The latest figure cited by the Economy and Finance Ministry has passed the $9 billion mark and continues to grow. Optimists in the ministry say the situation is “manageable,” but will require considerable effort by the nation of almost 11 million.

When Athens undertook the task of hosting the games in 1997, the cost was estimated at $2 billion. Last March, when the socialist government was voted out of office, the officially quoted figure was $5 billion.

Officials of the conservative government accuse their socialist predecessors of presenting a fictitious budget and camouflaging the real costs. The socialists deny the charges, accusing the current government of overestimating the costs.

Greece’s budget deficit for 2004 is estimated at 5.3 percent of the gross domestic product, while its public debt is about $250 billion. Greece had to borrow $50 billion to service it.

Mr. Karamanlis has maintained an optimistic view of the situation, claiming that the country’s economy is “sufficiently mature” to simultaneously support the cost of the Olympics and finance an “economic leap forward.”

In statements since the games, he prefers to dwell on the feeling of national pride at their successful conclusion and on what authorities describe as an “unprecedented eruption of urban renewal,” which has profoundly transformed the Greek capital and its vicinity.

Now, officials must decide how best to use the spectacular array of projects that were generated by the Olympics.

In addition to the ultramodern venues for multiple sports activities, these include a new international airport, an up-to-date urban transportation system, a network of highways around Athens and an earthquake-safe bridge linking the northern and southern parts of Greece’s western coast.

Architect Alexandros Tombazis said Athens “has changed into an amazingly civilized environment. … ”

“How much of this can stay? One hopes for the best — that it was not a brief interval before we return to mediocrity.”

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyiannis has said the city “will continue with a new psychology, regulations for cleanliness and care, and emphasis for the upkeep and protection of the works that have been carried out.”

Many argue that the facilities could be best used by making Greece, where the games were born, a permanent home for the modern Olympics.

“Giving the games a permanent home here would eliminate much of the lobbying, pandering and downright bribery that have marred the selection process for so long,” said John K. Cooley, an American author who lives in Athens.

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