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(Update 8/30/18, 10 a.m.: The Fresno city council approved the sponsorship, 6-0, as part of the consent calendar. The item was not pulled for a separate debate).

Could the newly dubbed California Food Expo exit Fresno?

The Fresno City Council will discuss approving a $62,500 sponsorship of the annual summer event at its meeting Thursday (Aug. 30).  The city subsidized the expo in the same amount in 2016 and 2017.

According to the staff report, “the Expo has been recruited by other cities within the San Joaquin Valley in an effort to move its annual trade show event to their city.  The $62,500 sponsorship will ensure that the City of Fresno will continue to be the host city for the trade show event.”

Amy Fuentes, the expo’s manager, says any talk of the food fest going the way of the Oakland now/Las Vegas later Raiders is untrue.

“We have no intention of doing that. We love our relationship with the city of Fresno. We look at it as an ongoing partnership,” Fuentes said.

Heart of Fresno

After its July 26 event drew an estimated 2,000 exhibitors and attendees, the event announced a name change from Fresno Food Expo to California Food Expo and expansion to two days. That starts next year.

Fuentes says other communities spoke with the expo to seek advice on how to replicate its success.

“We believe we are very much the heart of the food story in California,” Fuentes said. “Our goal and our partnership with the city is to make Fresno the leader of California’s food movement.”

Councilman Clint Olivier agrees on the expo’s impact.

“I think the food expo has been a jewel for the city of Fresno. The expo’s results speak for themselves. … Fresno County is the breadbasket of the county. The food expo does a good job showcasing our products to the world,” he said.

However, he wants to hear what city staff and expo officials have to say at the council meeting. Olivier said such use of public funds has given him “heartburn” in the past.

“I want to hear the facts. If the expo is threatening to leave, that may change people’s ideas on council. I want to hear them make that claim before voting to give that much money,” he said.

City’s Money Important to Expo Success

The city’s sponsorship is crucial to the expo’s revenues. Fuentes said the expo took in approximately $600,000. Thus the city’s deal represents more than 10% of expo income.

“Those dollars are extremely important when it comes to our bottom line. It shows the true partnership with the city of Fresno, and them putting the food industry as a priority,” Fuentes added.

The council staff report touts the benefit of the city receiving ancillary revenue from parking, hotel occupancy, and the associated taxes.

However, Fuentes said there is no formal study of economic impact to provide any numbers on how much the expo brings to Fresno.

“I very much see in the next 3-5 years having a very similar impact (as the World Ag Expo in Tulare), but more directly on the city of Fresno,” Fuentes said.

In 2015, the council signed a five-year deal (2016-2021) for the Expo to use the Fresno Convention Center and New Exhibit Hall, utilizing the city’s $45,000 rent credit.

The council in 2016 approved $125,000 to sponsor the event in 2016 and 2017.

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