In Moselle, Bataville dreams of getting off to a good start

“A new spark”: more than 20 years after its closure, Bataville, the former city-factory of the Bata shoe manufacturer in Lorraine, is still looking to bounce back and now places its hopes in a felted wool production project.

From the departmental road which crosses the country of ponds, an isolated forest area in the south of the Moselle, you can see the ocher of the buildings piercing through the trees: 24 hectares, straddling the communes of Moussey and Réchicourt-le-Château, on which the Czech Tomas Bata, paternalistic boss, has set his sights.

In the 1930s, he built four monumental buildings with flat roofs, in the refined style of the Bauhaus.

Giant bricks and glass, five storeys high, they line the central aisle of the site.

The whole is impressive, but once you have crossed the rusty gate stamped with the “B” of the brand that wanted to “shoe the world”, the stigmata are obvious: peeling paint, ivy on the walls, abandoned annex buildings, smashed floors strewn with abandoned items…

– “Utopian” –

In 2014, the canteen and a factory building, bought by a private party, were classified as Historic Monuments. The set was then labeled Heritage of the 20th century.

A collective of artists also holds a festival there every two years.

“In total, a hundred employees”, explains Roland Klein, president of the community of communes of Sarrebourg-Moselle Sud. Far from the 2,500 that Bataville counted in its heyday. When it closed in 2001, 840 people were still working there.

Since then, Bataville has been somewhere “between life and death. We are fighting but we are getting nowhere”, sighs Michel Thomas, elected mayor of Réchicourt, “35 years at Bata”.

Several studies or projects have tried to breathe new life into this unique industrial heritage in France, in vain.

The establishment of “film studios” and a center for “training for stuntmen” were mentioned, remembers Jean-Paul Kohler, 80, ex-executive at Bata.

“Utopian”, he slices: Bataville was “a beautiful story. Unfortunately, there is not always a happy ending…”

– “Locomotive” –

We must “find the spark that will restore activity again,” concedes Mr. Klein.

A “spark” that could come from a 100% local project: launched a few years ago, a felted wool production cooperative could serve as a “locomotive” at the site where a building will be allocated to it, explains Stéphane Ermann, mayor of Réchicourt-le-Château and sheep breeder.

He is at the head of Mos-Laine, which brings together 90 breeders from the Grand Est. Each year, Lorraine produces 365 tons of wool, exported at low cost to Asia for processing.

A relocation of the sector would certainly benefit local breeders, he analyzes.

In total, 5.6 million euros – including 4.1 million public money – will be injected into the project. A wool washing unit could then be added to it, before the development of an activity around leather.

The wool will generate “five or six jobs”, according to Mr. Klein. As for leather, “we will be more sure of reintegration”. Not enough to immediately restore its brilliance to Bataville. But indirectly, it contributes to “maintaining breeders and their activity locally”.

The outlets exist, assures Mr. Ermann, in particular the insulation of buildings with wool, a process currently applied to the town hall of Réchicourt.

Machines have been delivered but the production line is struggling to see the light of day: the renovation of the building which is to receive it has not started, the breeder is irritated.

– “Huge emptiness” –

The sale of the building, owned by another private party, has been delayed and it will have to be renovated and cleaned up, delays Mr. Klein, who is counting on an “imminent” launch.

“The idea is to regain control of the site,” he explains, while ruling out a global takeover by the community.

He is leaning more towards the creation of an association bringing together the various owners in order to arrive at a coherent management “of the exteriors and the buildings”.

Another card to play for Bataville: tourism, with a site likely to attract a “certain public”, curious about the industrial past, he says.

“Perhaps thanks to little things like that, we will be able to revitalize the site”, wants to believe Hervé Morque, mayor of Moussey. The end of Bata, “it left a huge void”.

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