FRESNO, Calif. — City and California State University-Fresno leaders are making a last-ditch attempt to keep the FFA’s annual state convention from leaving town.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand and Fresno State President Joe Castro told a local radio station last week they were taken by surprise by the California FFA’s decision to move its conference to Anaheim next year.
The two met with FFA representatives April 26 and floated several alternatives, including moving the conference’s main sessions from Selland Arena to the larger and newer SaveMart Center on the Fresno State campus.
“It was a very productive conversation,” city communications director Mark Standriff told the Capital Press. “We were relieved to know their final contract with Anaheim apparently hasn’t been signed yet.”
Brand and Castro have also tried to rally local agricultural leaders to urge the FFA to stay. Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he was contacted by the mayor’s office and wants to be involved in any future talks aimed at keeping the convention in town.
“Obviously this convention has been very special to Fresno,” Jacobsen said. “Fresno has definitely enjoyed the opportunity to act as host for so long. I don’t think it’s an accident that the number of attendees dramatically increased in Fresno. … We have so many agricultural amenities that have helped make the convention a success.”
Josiah Mayfield, the FFA’s assistant state adviser, declined to comment about Fresno’s latest overtures.
He said last week that the organization’s growth had prompted the FFA to cut ties with Fresno’s Selland Arena and adjacent convention center after moving its state convention there from San Luis Obispo in 1994.
The convention had roughly 1,000 attendees when it moved, and now more than 6,000 of the state’s 79,500 FFA members attend the gathering. Members are scattered at various hotels in downtown Fresno, prompting state advisers to search for larger venues with more concentrated lodging.
The conference is now slated to alternate between Anaheim and Sacramento, with the Anaheim Convention Center the site of the 2018 and 2019 gatherings. Mayfield said last week he expected an agreement with Anaheim to be finalized within the next couple of weeks.
“We’re excited for what it’s going to offer our students in terms of opportunities for growth,” he said.
But Fresno leaders argue the conference’s attendance could suffer as it moves from the heart of California agriculture to Anaheim, where travel and hotel room rates could be more expensive.
They note that 144 of the state’s 317 high school FFA chapters are in the San Joaquin Valley, including some of the largest chapters in terms of membership.
“One of the other challenges that Anaheim is going to have is providing volunteers,” Standriff said. “We’re just a natural resource for people who are already in the agriculture industry and FFA alumni who look forward every year to coming to Fresno.
“Traveling to a location like Anaheim or even Sacramento is not something that is necessarily going to be in their plans, whereas we can naturally have a volunteer base that we’ve built up over the last 24 years,” he said.
The Fresno conferences have also received considerable help from Fresno State, which hosts an afternoon of workshops and has its students handle everything at the conference from set-up to publicity.
Castro has proposed using the 14-year-old SaveMart Center with its roughly 16,000 seats rather than the 51-year-old Selland Arena, which seats 7,200. But lodging near the university would still be scattered, officials concede.
On the subject of volunteers, Mayfield has said he’ll try to engage all of the state’s major agricultural colleges — Fresno State, California Polytechnic University-San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly-Pomona, CSU-Chico and the University of California-Davis — to help out.