Provence & Côte d'Azur: How one Anglophone association plans to harness the locals and bridge a gap
The ambitious Port Vauban project
"You have to be daring, but you must think deeply about coherence too. Back at the end of the 16th century, the people of Antibes dared to build the two Saracen towers, which became the defining symbol of old Antibes."
The ambitious Port Vauban project will transform the present, rather congested, area around the harbour that few people visit, serving mainly as a car park, into a pleasant and attractive place to stroll.
With much of the parking area 'semi-underground', there is to be a wide esplanade two-and-a-half kilometres long, with a footbridge over two quays that will link old Antibes to Fort Carré, with gardens, an arts and crafts 'village', a boules area, shops and businesses and a dry dock for 200 boats.
The current Camille Rayon Millionaires' Quay will be extended by 250 metres to receive cruise ships. At present, 12 per year moor in the bay and passengers are brought to shore by boat.
"With the new quay we plan to have 50 to 60 cruise liners coming to the town a year; no more,” Gonzalez stressed.
"Also, they will be cruises at the higher end of the market, carrying no more than three to eight hundred people. Ships with thousands of passengers would flood Antibes to the detriment of the quality of life of residents."
British sailors brought new life to Antibes
It was in 1981 that astute Antibes businessman Camille Rayon had the vision to see that sailing was becoming an extremely popular pastime, and with the backing of private investors proposed an enlargement of the harbour to Antibes Council. He was given a 40-year lease, and charged with building the harbour and infrastructure, in return for which he had full use of Port Vauban.
"Antibes was dying 30 years ago. It's thanks to the harbour, and the great seafaring nation of the British who flocked here, that the town came back to life,” continued Gonzalez. “They opened businesses, started to buy property and created an English colony that attracted people from all over the world. Of the 150 shops in old Antibes connected with the port, half are owned by Anglophones."
He became president of the newly-founded S.A.E.M. (Port Economy and Management Company) in November 2011 that is to oversee the development. Funding of the construction of the new port will be from private investors and rents from users, and once more Antibes residents will not pay any taxes on it.
The new entrance to the harbour is already under construction at the Saint Roch junction. Building permits have been applied for, necessary administrative steps are in progress and work is scheduled to start 2013/2014, with an estimated completion date of 2021.
New association encourages companies, 'yachties' and residents to have their say
Patrick Gilliot, president of the newly-formed A.S.A.P. Antibes (Association for the Support and Development of Antibes Port) and owner of international company Dolphin Wear Uniforms, summed up the feelings of many in the private sector: "Though initially planned without much consultation with the yachting industry, we support this project. There have been lots of ideas for projects over the last 15 years, but this one is interesting from a global point of view.
"It was a surprise when the Port Vauban project was announced, and when asking around I discovered that people in jobs and businesses involved in the port, and I'm sorry to say the large English community there, hadn't been consulted."
He then formed A.S.A.P. to group together professionals, crew, fishermen and residents to have a solid base with which to work with Mr Gonzalez. In his first very cordial meeting with the Deputy Mayor about the project, Gilliot explained the importance of involvement with people working in and around the port and how his association would like to provide ideas, and constructive criticism as well as sharing members' knowledge and experience.
Muriel Pénoty, treasurer of the association and communication officer for Antibes Yacht Show added: "The environmental aspect is the most important and that's the number one priority that A.S.A.P. wants to get across. Also, that access by land and sea is effective, that the general aspect is attractive and that facilities like benches, phones and a laundromat are in place."
She also talked of the two very separate worlds of the harbour and the old town, separated not only by the rampart walls but by a psychological barrier. A.S.A.P., a bilingual association with free membership, wants to link the two worlds and get each involved with the other.
"Antibes is like Sleeping Beauty", Gilliot continued. "It's not easy for politicians to build something; people are suspicious and think it's only for the rich. We want to say to citizens: 'Wake up!' The project is a dream that starts to be a reality. A port is the lifeblood of a town and they're not aware of its impact on Antibes."
In these uncertain economic times, he feels strongly that "the financing of this project isn't necessarily linked to the global economy. It could be a good way to defend the town and economy of the area. There'll be employment. I don't think we should say the economy's bad so we must slow down."
The joy of the old and the shock of the new
Antibes has survived wars, battles, invasions and plagues, the multi-various architectural changes have become part of its charm over the millennia, and it has retained its magic and unique personality that enchants all who come here.
We can but hope that once absorbed into the landscape, like those two Saracen towers these most recent changes prove to be yet other innovative additions to the beauty and rich tapestry of life that is Antibes Juan les Pins.