Bonjour Destin! French sister city holds untapped potential

Savannah Chastain
This map depicts aerial shots of sister cities Destin and St. Jean de Luz both coastal fishing cities.

The city of Destin introduced itself to French city, St. Jean de Luz, 20 years ago through Sister Cities International, a program founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 in effort to promote global peace by bringing nations together in a personal way.

However, since the initial formation of the friendship little has been done to utilize the potential economic and knowledge-sharing aspect that the program encourages.

“We have an official sister city, adopted in March of 1994 through resolution,” said Public Information Manager Doug Rainer. “But it is not a program we are actively working on.”

The French city was originally chosen as a sister city because of its similarity to Destin as a thriving fishing village. The original resolution document reads:

“Both cities are sensitive to the colossal impact and role the fishing industry has on the foundation and economic development of the city and its citizens. The sister city relationship will benefit each community through the exchange of information within the areas of tourism, business development, culture and recreation.”

Destin adopted French city St. Jean de Luz in 1994, and St. Gilles Croix de Vie was added as an unofficial sister-city in 1998.

According to city records, delegates from St. Gilles Croix de Vie visited Destin in April of 1998 which may be what prompted its unofficial addition as a second Destin sister city. Public record also shows a delegation of Destin residents and councilmen visited France between ’97 and ’98, and revisited the council with gifts from St. Gilles Croix de Vie.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting talk of the purpose of sister cities was discussed. Okaloosa County Economic Development Council Executive Director Nathan Sparks was present at the meeting, but shared his thoughts on the topic on a phone interview with The Log.

“I think that sister cities are meaningful, provided that both parties go into that agreement with similar intent,” said Sparks. “The scope of the program that is most successful is when it involves economic ties, which are geared towards fostering a more robust and meaningful relationship.”

Sparks told The Log that although he believes the educational side of the program is helpful there is more potential for a sister-city program that could help boost economic trade and business development.

“The education, and cultural exchange is great but the economic part is really what I think is the key,” he said. “I believe it is just as important if not more important because we are now operating in a global community.”

If Destin revisits the sister-city program, Sparks says he hopes to see the program reach its full economic potential.

“A sister-city program needs to have those tenants in mind as its being instated or improved upon,” he said.