The mayor of the cash-strapped municipality of Chalki has decided to raise funds in a unique way: offering a beautiful local island for lease.
A furor surrounded Greece’s islands last year when several prominent EU politicians suggested that the near-bankrupt country sell some of its famous isles to pay down its swelling debt. Given the country’s notoriously Byzantine property laws, under which no foreigner has succeeded in buying an island in the post-WWII era, it seemed an unlikely fundraising idea. Now, however, one small municipality may be doing the closest thing; Chalki is offering one of its islands, the popular (but unmaintained) day trip destination of Alimnia, for rent to parties interested in developing it for commercial use.
Alimnia is certainly attractive for hospitality development; found in the East, in the Dodecanese chain near the island of Rhodes, the large, 7.4 km2 (more than 1,800 acre) island is lush with olive trees and currently sitting empty. At one time, though, the island was full of activity – during WWII, the island served as a base for Italian and German soldiers, and Alimnia’s deserted village has a distinctly Bavarian style of architecture. It also has a chapel, still used on holidays by residents of neighbouring islands, and the remains of a Medieval castle.
Artifacts from the war can still be found here and there, like the odd helmet and some graffiti from soldiers, scrawled across the white walls of a building. Now, the island is a popular place for both locals and tourists to have a picnic and a swim, and wander through its eerily abandoned ghost town. It’s often dubbed on travel websites to be one of the premier beach party spots in the region.
For Michalis Patros, mayor of the district of Chalki, there was a clear need to take the raising of money into the municipality’s own hands. According to daily newspaper Proto Thema, he saw little hope of being able to support the local community through the usual federal channels. His decision, he told the paper, was to allow him to “stop begging for funds from the Athens-centered Greek state.” How much money the municipality could raise is not yet known, as the potential lease price has not been released.
So, what could a developer do with the property? It seems ideal for a resort community, perhaps with a hotel and seasonal villas, and certainly a marina for its sea-loving visitors. Fortunately for prospective developers, the extensive network of buildings still in place on the island may set a precedent for new construction, since in Greece, completely untouched islands often come with burdensome development restrictions.
Mayor Patras, at least, believes that the island has plenty of potential. “Alimnia is an islet but in fact a small island of extraordinary natural beauty. Even though it was abandoned in 1966, several hundred holiday-makers visit it every summer with their yachts or speed boats.” He also told Proto Thema that he has already been approached by several possible investors, and the city council is moving fast to allow it to be leased as quickly as next year. With the right investors, it could be a win-win situation – the abandoned island will get a new lease on life, while Chalki gains some independece from Greece’s financial woes.
Read more about this story: Greek Reporter