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California Fresh in Sacramento

California has often been called the world’s breadbasket. The Golden State is the world’s fifth-largest supplier of food and agriculture products. Three years ago, Sacramento, the state capital, designated itself the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America and urged people to grow, deliver and consume local food. The movement promotes products from the Central Valley at grocery stores, restaurants and kitchens.

“What we’ve seen in the last three years is that Sacramento has dramatically matured, and food is one big reason, as it has been for over a century,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s 1.5 million acres of active farm land in this region, and we grow food not only for northern California but for the nation. We realized we had this amazing abundance of food, more than any other place in the country could claim. Now our restaurants have developed to the point where they talk about how best to prepare and serve it.”

The convention center and its catering operation and restaurants at main hotels downtown and elsewhere now strive to provide the freshest, choicest food products available. “The food people eat at those places that night may have been purchased just that morning from a local farmer,” said Testa.

“Food has always been part of our DNA,” said Sonya Bradley, the CVB’s chief marketing officer, who adds that fresh, local food is starting to catch up with wine, a traditional favorite, as a major name brand. There are 200 wineries in the region; the nearest is just 20 miles away. The number of craft beer makers and sellers has exploded too.

Testa said one of the advantages of Sacramento being a tier-two city is that when meeting planners and attendees go there, they practically own the city.

“They are the big fish in a small pond,” he said. “If you go to San Francisco, you’re not going to get that. You’ll just be another meeting in town. But many of our local elected officials get it and are there to personally welcome groups that arrive in our town.”

See You There

Sacramento, with a population of 485,000, is centrally located in the state and sits at the confluence of two major rivers — the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. It is home to California State University Sacramento.

Sacramento International Airport is just minutes from the city’s core downtown convention facilities and convention hotels. Bradley said many meeting planners want to take their groups to California but find that Los Angeles and San Francisco are beyond their budgets. Sacramento is simply a more affordable choice.

“We fall right into their wheelhouse for that,” Bradley said, “but we may have to educate people a bit more about it.”

Sacramento attracts many state associations and has seen a growing national association business as well. The state associations like to do a rotation between southern and northern California. Testa said there has been a significant increase in the number of corporate meetings taking place in Sacramento in the past 18 months. Since the Farm-to-Fork designation was made, many agricultural groups choose to meet there, “just because of how many things are happening here now, from a food standpoint.”

Meet There

The city’s chief meeting and event facility is the downtown Sacramento Convention Center, which has 384,000 square feet to use, including 31 meeting rooms and a 24,000-square-foot ballroom. Testa said the city is getting closer to making a decision about adding another 100,000 square feet. One idea being discussed is possibly refurbishing the nearby Community Center Theater and joining the two buildings.

Other major spaces for meetings are the 350-acre indoor and outdoor facilities at Cal Expo, which includes 18 different venues that can accommodate anywhere from 50 to 100,000 people for events. Another choice is historic Memorial Auditorium, built in 1927 and featuring ornate detailing and 3,800 seats. It is ideal for special events, seminars and lectures. There is also a smaller, more intimate theater available there with just 200 seats. The newly opened McClellan Conference Center has 70,000 square feet of conference and meeting space.

Sleep Train Arena, home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and Raley Field, home of the AAA-level Sacramento River Cats baseball team, are also available on non-game days or nights for certain types of meetings and events.

Testa said a replacement for Sleep Train Arena is under construction and will be ready by the fall.

“The new Golden 1 Center downtown will have 17,500 seats and will bookend our K Street Mall,” said Testa. “One end will have the new arena; six blocks down on the other end is the convention center, both within sight of each other.”

The new arena will allow the city to go after larger shows and groups, like the religious market.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.