Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Grand Rapids likely to gain fifth Sister City

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Jim Harger
The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- The city's family of Sister Cities is about to get bigger.

Zapopan, a city of nearly 1.2 million residents in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is about to become Grand Rapids' fifth Sister City.

City commissioners were expected to approve the relationship today, ending a six-year search for a municipal sibling in Mexico.

Susan Camp, president of Grand Rapids' Sister City International organization, said the new site was chosen from several compatible Mexican cities.

Camp said the local group has been looking for a Mexican sister city in response to Grand Rapids' growing Hispanic community, most of whom have roots in Mexico.
"It just seems to make sense for Grand Rapids Sister City to have that kind of connection and partnership," she said.

Zapopan (pronounced Zah-PO-pahn) is the second largest city in the state of Jalisco and an educational and cultural center, she said.

Like Grand Rapids, there are 13 colleges and universities with campuses in Zapopan. Michigan State University's College of Law has a program in Zapopan.

Assistant to the City Manager Jose Reyna was among several city officials who visited Zapopan this year. Mayor George Heartwell and 1st Ward City Commissioner Roy Schmidt were among the group.

Though Zapopan is much larger than Grand Rapids, its residents face many of the same issues as people in Grand Rapids, Reyna said.

"The difference is that U.S. cities tend to be much more developed with regard to infrastructure," said Reyna, whose mother was born near Zapopan.
"Although they have larger populations, the sophistication of their systems is not as highly developed."

Reyna said they expect to host a delegation from Zapopan in the early summer for a formal Sister City signing ceremony. Grand Rapids will send a delegation for a formal ceremony later this year.
Grand Rapids Sister City International is a nonprofit group largely funded by the individual Sister City organizations, Camp said.

The agreement with Zapopan is the first since 1994, when the city signed an agreement with Ga District, a city in the West African nation of Ghana. Grand Rapids also has sister city ties with Bielsko-Biala, Poland; Omihachiman, Japan; and Perugia, Italy.

The city's new JW Marriott hotel has featured the sister cities in its public spaces, meeting and guest rooms and parking decks.

JW Marriott and Sister City officials hope the theme will help land a Sister Cities International Convention in 2009. The four-day event would host about 1,000 international and domestic visitors.

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