how tourism “stopped the decline” of the former industrial city

“The city was punctuated by factory sirens, people left in the morning with the siren, returned home with the siren. » With the exception of SMEs, including the Faro, Knauf, Bois Tourné and Steico foundries, the heyday of industry only exists in the memories of Casteljalousains, like those of Jean-Claude Guénin, mayor in 1994 to 2017.

Just thirty years ago, however, “the entire economy of Casteljaloux was based on industry”. In 1975, the productive sector (industry and agriculture) employed 62.7% of the active population, compared to 25.6% in 2019. Like the steel industry in Fumel or shoemaking in Miramont-de-Guyenne, “a whole section of the industrial fabric” was forged thanks to the forest (sawmills, printing works, paper mills) and around agricultural machinery, then “crumbled” over “the economic crises that France experienced”, analyzes the former first city councilor.

Mass unemployment

The Gilbert Foundry, founded in 1908, had more than 200 employees when it closed its doors in 1984. “Some companies have continued, but with social plans as a result.” This was the case at the Gilet et Isorel sawmill, now Steico. The city was plagued by mass unemployment when Jean-Claude Guénin became financial assistant to José Bès. “Businesses were closing, people were leaving. Less population means less state funding: it’s a cascading effect. Other economic outlets had to be found. »


Jean-Claude Guénin, mayor of Casteljaloux from 1994 to 2017, and Julie Castillo, his running mate and successor, re-elected in 2020.

C.G.

Tourism is then in vogue: the General Council [désormais appelé Conseil départemental, NDLR] puts the Baïse and the Lot into navigation, develops the lateral canal to the Garonne. In Casteljaloux, Joseph Turroques had created a first furrow with Lake Clarens. Inaugurated in 1977, it was the most visited tourist site in Lot-et-Garonne until the opening of Waliby Park in 1992. In 1983, the golf course, created facing the lake, “serves as a showcase for the city” , describes Jean-Claude Guénin, who then decided to reconnect with the thermal past of the city at the gates of the Landes and, thus, open up the possibility of building a casino.

The project is nevertheless laborious, even hazardous, because it quickly turns out that the ferruginous waters, which treated anemia and rickets between 1830 and 1900, no longer have any medical interest. The various right-wing municipality does not budge, venturing at great expense into the exploration of the soil in search of sheets of hot water, identified by oil prospecting. The Grail will be found 1,367 meters below the earth’s surface, thanks to drilling carried out in 1987.

Skeptics

Fifteen years after the first therapeutic experiments, the Bains de Casteljaloux opened in 2002 (103,000 entries in 2023). “The bet was risky,” recognizes Jean-Claude Guénin. During all these years, “legitimately, people were asking questions. It took convincing. There were many preconceived ideas about hydrotherapy, seen as reserved for the upper classes. » Skeptics criticize a trajectory towards “all tourism” while layoffs are increasing, notably at the Frauciel parquetry (closed in 2007). “It was seen as extravagant,” remembers her successor, Julie Castillo.


The casino pays the municipality a tax on the proceeds of the winnings, which amounted to more than 7,000,000 euros in 2023, in addition to the rent for the site.

Thierry Breton/SO

Oppositions are worried about the financial risk, with the Court of Auditors clamping down on the municipality on its debt rate – land is still heavily taxed. A danger that Jean-Claude Guénin assumes. “Even if we couldn’t replace all the lost jobs, if we didn’t do anything, it was zero, we had to try something”; the fate of Miramont-de-Guyenne acting as a scarecrow. “We have managed to halt the decline,” he is satisfied. The commercial vacancy which then receded in the Grand-rue and the investment in public services quickly became perceptible.

On the same subject

Is there a Center Parcs effect in Casteljaloux?

Is there a Center Parcs effect in Casteljaloux?

Two years ago, the new generation holiday village, a stone’s throw from the Cité des Cadets de Gascogne, opened its doors with the promise of surrounding development. The bet seems about to be won

“Unanimity”

“The achievement” for the then mayor was the opening of the department’s only casino (75,000 annual entries, on average) in 2015 on the banks of Lake Clarens (105,000 visitors per year). The return on investment is immediate: in 2023, the municipality received 674,529 euros in tax on gaming proceeds, “more than what a company with 150 employees would bring in”. The installation of the Pierre et Vacances site in 2022, at the gates of the spa town, has only reinforced the city as a “locomotive of tourism in the region,” believes the current mayor, of which Center Parcs is a wagon. »

Today, there is “unanimity” on tourism policy, according to Raymond Girardi, president of the Coteaux et Landes de Gascogne community of communes. “What we need to do now is develop reception. »

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