California State University-Fresno
FRESNO, Calif. — Local leaders have promised more facility space, closer involvement by agricultural leaders and perhaps farm tours as a way to entice the FFA’s annual state convention to stay in town.
City and California State University-Fresno leaders sent a new proposal to the youth organization last week that included use of the Big Fresno Fairgrounds and bus transportation for students to activities there, university president Joe Castro said.
“Then we would enhance our partnerships with the ag leaders in the area and get them more involved,” Castro told the Capital Press. “Many have stepped up to say they’d help out with mentors and offered field trips on their own farms and tours if they (the FFA) were to stay. There’s a lot of support here for it.”
The local leaders’ overtures come as the California FFA is apparently close to an agreement with the Anaheim Convention Center to host the organization’s leadership conference in 2018 and 2019.
Josiah Mayfield, the FFA’s assistant state adviser, has declined to comment about talks he’s had with Fresno officials since the organization announced its plans to cut ties with the Selland Arena and its adjacent convention center. Fresno has hosted the FFA’s gathering for 24 years.
Mayfield argues that the organization’s growth is forcing it to move the convention, noting the gathering’s attendance has grown from about 1,000 to more than 6,000 students a year. Members are scattered at various hotels in downtown Fresno, prompting state advisers to search for larger venues with more concentrated lodging.
“Clearly Anaheim has an advantage in terms of hotel rooms in closer proximity to one another,” Castro conceded. “We’d have a number of different hotels in the Fresno-Clovis area to support that large number, but I would say that our location is far more strategically important to them.
“Almost half of the students in FFA come from the Central Valley, and it’s much more convenient for them,” he said.
The annual convention is a big event for Fresno State, which provides roughly 200 students and faculty members to help put it on. On the Sunday of each convention, members are bused over to the university for educational workshops and judging contests.
“In addition to the 200, there are literally many hundreds of people who are helping to make sure this whole program goes smoothly,” Castro said. “That would have to be re-created elsewhere. Our folks would not be in the position of going to Anaheim.”
Castro and Fresno Mayor Lee Brand have tried to rally local agricultural leaders to urge the FFA to stay, and the offers of farm tours and more mentors are a result of the outreach, Castro said.
Use of the fairgrounds would add about 89,000 square feet of activity space to the roughly 125,000 available at the Selland Arena and convention center, he said.
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 he said he understands the FFA likes Selland’s proximity to the DoubleTree Hotel, which is the main hotel the convention uses.
The conference is now slated to alternate between Anaheim and Sacramento every two years. Mayfield has said he expects an agreement with Anaheim to be finalized soon.
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.