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$200 Million to Help Improve Athens' Look  Ahead of 2004 Olympics - 2003-07-18

The municipality of Athens has borrowed about $200 million for projects to help improve the city's look for next year's Summer Olympics.

The money will finance projects, including repaving 140 kilometers of roads, building playgrounds and parks, and repainting and refurbishing building facades. It is the latest attempt to give Athens a much-need facelift. Decades of runaway growth has left many areas overwhelmed by traffic, drab apartment blocks and crumbling sidewalks.

Illegal billboards have been removed from parts of the city center and officials have urged building owners to reduce the number of television antennas that can be seen on top of nearly every roof.

The Greek government is guaranteeing the loans for the projects from a Swiss banking consortium (UBS) and from the Agriculture Bank of Greece. Greece has already agreed on a $1.5 billion loan from the European Investment Bank to finance the 2004 Athens Olympics.