Reporter REGIO: episode 3
Puzzle pieces put together with European support and local creativity at Gura Humorului City
Success stories, possible with the support of Regio Nord-Est 2014-2020
With over 56 projects funded by European funds, Gura Humorului City has become a landmark in the Northeast region, and a destination for tourists. The city administration has built, over time, a place where every generation finds attractive places to spend their free time, whether they are locals or tourists. From the outdoor and indoor pool to the ski slope, the children’s town, and the artesian fountain with lights, Gura Humorului has relied on tourism and EU funding to grow in the long term.
Marius Ursaciuc, the 18-year-old mayor of the city, is the one who wants to leave a place for future generations to be proud of. He decided to run for the city administration, together with a handful of people, to change the „gray” image of his birthplace and to make it a place where everybody wants to invest. He recalls that in 2004 when Romania was in the pre-accession period, he made the development strategy of the city, in the short and medium-term, together with the World Bank and discovered that tourism is a sustainable and real option for the development of this town. At that time, only resorts of national interest benefited from certain funds. So the first thing he did when he became mayor was to set up an office for European projects and then all the documentation needed to get that status that offered certain financial benefits. The following year, with this status in the documents, it was possible to access funds for large tourist infrastructure. This is how an indoor pool, outdoor pool, ski slope, and cable installation were built. „All this was done to attract private investment in tourism. If in 2004 we had 84 accommodation places in 5 units, now there are 170 units with over 3 thousand accommodation places. And if the population has reached from 13 thousand inhabitants to 20 thousand, it means that we have reached our goal and we have managed to make the city attractive „, says the mayor.
Economic development through tourism
It was the tourism developed with the help of European funds that saved Gura Humorului. Formerly a mining town, 80% of the population was unemployed when the mines closed. Now, through the European projects implemented, smaller or larger, the city has become a destination, regardless of the season. „This is the niche I found and exploited. I have seen many places that can live exclusively from tourism. I am a member of the European Committee of the Regions and I have seen that if you do not have an alternative to economic development as others have, tourism is the only economic development that we can stimulate through investment. We have been present in all major European projects. The development of this city is a puzzle because European funds do not necessarily allow you to be coherent, but you do them one by one. Your needs and the financing possibilities launched on the axes do not always overlap„, says Marius Ursaciuc.
Two large-scale projects, designed to support tourism and provide leisure options for people of all ages, were funded by the Regional Operational Program 2014-2020 and brought 7.5 million euros to this area. The first project was the T.U.R.I.S.T. (Revitalized Urban Territory with Tourism Support Infrastructure), and the second, which has recently been completed, is O.A.Z.A. (Active City with Landscaped Areas). Through the two projects, almost 9 hectares of land in an advanced stage of degradation have been transformed into areas of attraction for locals and tourists. „O.A.Z.A. and T.U.R.I.S.T. mean puzzle pieces that are added to existing projects so that everything has coherence. The two projects only expand this park, which has 23 hectares, with another 9 hectares „, says Marius Ursaciuc.
The O.A.Z.A. is designed for activities for all ages. There are play areas for children inspired by well-known movies or books, adapted to the local specifics. Elve`s Park with 5 houses covered with earth, a play castle, but also a natural labyrinth in which children can get lost at will. The houses are connected by winding paths, and the park is crossed by roller and bicycle tracks. Those who are passionate about such activities also have at their disposal a skatepark, located in Fountain`s Park, and the activity of the children in this area can be easily monitored by the parents from the adjacent wooden steps. The central element of the park is the artesian fountain with water play, music, and color, but also the gazebos built as a meeting place for young people are very popular.
Near this park, next to the indoor swimming pool and the Ariniș swimming pool, a bowling alley was built, as an alternative to bowling, respecting the local tradition. The elderly or people with disabilities were not omitted by the placement of specific fitness equipment. For fans of movement, there are two trails arranged through the forest. The 30 m high panoramic tower from the upper base of the Falcon slope offers visitors the opportunity to observe nature and the city from a height through the telescopes. Picnic areas, but also for jogging are other options for all tourists.
The office in the park and the inspiration
Mayor Ursaciuc is very proud of the project team and the achievements made so far. The team’s office is located in Ariniș Park, in a disused building also rehabilitated with European funds. The mayor considered that good ideas and inspiration come when there is peace around you and the view is amazing. „They work there, in the woods, in the park where there are 8 families of squirrels. They have the right environment to be creative and to come up with ideas for what we can finance. We discuss the topics together, but creativity cannot be formally stimulated. That’s why the environment in which you work matters a lot. If I look at the lines of financing, it’s not poetry. If I look in the park, I see poetry. Because most of the time there is no overlap of my needs on what is financed, here come the squirrels that give ideas, that adapt the rigors to the needs. We have to adapt chameleonically so that we meet certain criteria to receive funding. That is the reality „, says Marius Ursaciuc.
``I made them believe that impossible things do not exist``
So far, Mayor Ursaciuc has achieved what he set out to do a few years ago, Gura Humorului is no longer a gray city, but that does not mean he stops here. He is very happy when he hears that people from other areas are moving to Gura Humorului and commuting to Suceava or other nearby towns. They saw that a city is a place where it is good to live, to raise your children. „When I was a student, I was asked where I was from, and when I said Gura Humorului, they asked me in which county it was. Today … I meet people from Suceava who say they are from Gura Humorului „, says the mayor.
Mayor Ursaciuc and his team have already prepared a portfolio of projects awaiting funding for the next session. A spectacular project awaiting funding is the installation of a 2.2 km bobsleigh that can be used in both summer and winter. Recently, they signed another financing project through ROP 2014-2020, for investments in the educational infrastructure at the Gymnasium School no. 1 from Gura Humorului, which is a big challenge considering that the deadline is December 2023. Given the current situation, inflation, and rising prices for materials, this project is emotional, but not for the team. „We are in the bidding process for the school that we have to finish in a year and a half. From the beginning, I said we would win this project. I didn’t win it. It was the second project on the reserve list. Even so, owning one is still beyond the average person’s reach. It turned out we were visionaries. 3 weeks ago I signed a financing contract. I gained valuable time designing ahead. We took some risks, but they were controllable risks. I think things are not impossible and I made them, the team, believe the same. We tried to make Gura Humorului a destination and I think we succeeded „, says Marius Ursaciuc.
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