by Vicky Kaliakou

Thessaloniki –once called “the Flower of the Balkans”– has been the only city in Europe with a Jewish population majority. During World War II the ancient and vibrant Jewish community was destroyed by the Nazis and many survivors emigrated to Israel, Poland and the US.

The proposed Holocaust Memorial & Human Rights Educational Center

Today thousands of tourists from Israel visit “Salonica”. According to the city’s Hotels Association, Israel was the top source country for incoming tourism in 2019 having increased by 564% during 2014–2018. It is estimated that when the “Holocaust Memorial & Human Rights Educational Center” (known as the “Holocaust Museum”) is built, Jewish visitors from all over the world will exceed 1,500,000.

But it’s not all about history and tourism. Thessaloniki has evolved into a commercial, digital and educational center in southeastern Europe making progress in the roll-out of regional investments and infrastructure such as the recent airport’s expansion, the future connection of the port’s Pier 6 with the national highway and the “Pfizer Center for Digital Innovation” – Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was born and raised in Thessaloniki and his Jewish family survived the Holocaust.

“I was born in Thessaloniki and I have made a kind of return”

Mr. Isaac Leon, CEO of “Calon Constructions ”, has invested in several real estate projects in Thessaloniki, Athens and Piraeus. But Thessaloniki holds a special place in his heart:

I believe very much in the city of Thessaloniki and its potential. I was born here and I have a very long family history. My strong belief in the future of the city was a good ‘excuse’ to make a kind of return to the city. History usually repeats itself and when one studies the history of Thessaloniki one understands the geopolitical reasons that had shaped the city into a trade hub of the wider Balkan region during the 19th and early 20th century. Thessaloniki has the background and, once the conditions are right, it will again become a hub in the Balkans and the Mediterranean,” Mr.Isaac Leon, tells Greek Business File.

Our group has a long experience in real estate development. In the past three years we have focused a big part of our activity on the city of Thessaloniki, where we have acquired and developed several real estate projects. Our business model is to turn old commercial and industrial properties to modern residential units that offer a comfortable lifestyle adapted to the needs of the most demanding tenants,” he explains.

The parcellation trend or “parcelacia”

“Project 151”, an old Public Power Corporation (DEI) building on Papanastasiou street, is an typical example of parcellation

Studio apartment in “Project 151”

Thanos Charistos, leading partner at Nexus Law Firm, is very experienced in foreign investments and real estate projects. He notes that most of them are related to the conversion of large old properties into restored smaller residential ones or the maintenance of their commercial use and reformation to boutique hotels. “For sure the Covid-19 pandemic has embanked the uptrend. However, the general engagement in this market creates a domino effect, which invites new interested investors every day. In Thessaloniki, the number-one investors today are Israeli citizens. Their activities –at the greatest percentage of the cases– include the so-called ‘parcelacia’. That means the renovation and then division of larger properties to smaller ones and usually their shift from industrial/commercial spaces into residential,” he told Greek Business File.

Parcellation, as you may call it, is connected to the new residential trends. Many tenants today need smaller, modern living units located in the center of the cities, for long/short rental. These units are cheaper to rent and maintain and are also suitable for investment by investors looking for a good yield. We have already invested in several such projects in Thessaloniki, in Athens and in Piraeus and we have several new projects in the pipeline,” Isaac Leon explained.

Vicky Kaliakou writes about the new trend in real estate, the “parcellation”, the interest of Israeli investors in Thessaloniki and the “top” areas for investment in the July/ August 2021 issue of Greek Business File available here.