By Nathan Morley
A LOCAL academic has presented ambitious plans to regenerate the old Nicosia airport into a modern tax-free industrial estate with the aim of attracting foreign investment and boosting employment on the island.
The sweeping blueprint to revive the airport drafted by Dr Michael Paraskos, points to the current dire economic situation and suggests that redevelopment into a ‘free zone’ would act as a confidence boosting measure, whilst stimulating economic growth, encouraging investment and creating new jobs.
Paraskos, who is the Director of the Cornaro Institute in Larnaca, says that with sufficient incentives foreign high tech firms could be attracted to a zero-tax environment located within the European Union.
He says an ambitious transformation of the airport would also kick-start the local construction industry and feed the local economy through employee wages.
“I think the whole idea is to create jobs, so if one big company like Toyota or Nissan said we want to use the whole site to build one factory making our cars it would be foolish to say no. That’s unlikely of course, and the site is huge, so I would imagine many companies setting up there,” Paraskos told the Sunday Mail.
Last week Paraskos handed President Anastasiades the plan with high hopes that he fully explores the advantages and long-term potential. The sprawling airport complex west of Nicosia is now mainly used as the headquarters of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force.
“The point is to attract foreign firms to Cyprus, so they bring with them the investment we need. And they can raise the money to invest that local firms cannot get any more. All I know is that we have thousands of young people in Cyprus with degrees and doctorates who are lucky if they manage to get work in a beach bar over the summer. It is not fair on them and it is a waste of talent.”
Although there would be no tax revenue from the free zone, a main component of the plan is a condition that any foreign companies using the facility must provide jobs to Cypriots from both sides of the Green Line.
“Having ordinary Cypriots meeting, working together and becoming friends is the only thing that is ever going to bring an end to hostility,” he says.
Paraskos says his idea includes plans to sympathetically conserve the old airport terminal, which when opened in1968, was considered a marvel of modern engineering, architecture and infrastructure.
“It would be a shame to see it go. It is a great piece of architecture, built by Dorsch Gruppe of Germany, who are still the world’s leading airport designers,” he says. “I think it represents a time when some people in Cyprus at least had optimism about the future, so it would be a shame to lose that. LondonAirport used to be located in Croydon and when it closed the old building was turned into a visitor centre, restaurants and hotels, so maybe something like that could happen.”
When opened, the terminal building was hailed for its stunning sequence of crisp, elegant, uncluttered spaces set under a single sun lit roof. However, it has been left untouched without basic repairs since 1974 and the structure is rapidly decaying.
“I am working with an architecture graduate called Emilios Coutsoftides, from the University of Creative Arts in England, on developing a plan for the airport. He has some bright ideas to create what are called anchor buildings that will attract the first investors, and will house the services, like cafes and kiosks. Then there is the idea of landscaping the whole site, so that it starts to resemble some of the high tech industrial parks you see elsewhere in the world.”
While many questions remain to be answered about how the proposal will be received by both communities, Paraskos says that the initial reaction from President Anastasiades has been encouraging.
“The message from the President was positive. Obviously he has to be circumspect with the upcoming talks with the Turkish Cypriot side, but he said he found it interesting, and would pass it on to his ministers. Certainly I think the idea deserves to be welcomed on both sides as it is difficult to see how anyone comes out of this losing face or political capital. Everyone would be a winner,” he added.