Local News

Ag Department Rejects Only Bid For State Fair Contract

Posted January 10, 2006

— The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs on Tuesday rejected a bid by the sole bidder to operate the midway rides and games at the State Fair for the next three years, saying it was not an adequate bid.

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    Earlier Tuesday at the State Fairgrounds, Wade Shows, of Spring Hill, Fla., bid to pay the State Fair $3 for each person who buys an admission ticket to the fair -- nearly half of what the company bid for the 2005 state fair.

    "The bid of $3 was not acceptable," Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "The State Fair has several options, and we're confident that the solution we choose will result in a successful fair."

    Wade Shows operated the midway for the 2005 State Fair and paid the fair $5.915 for each paid admission. About 643,000 people paid to attend last year's fair and overall attendance was about 796,000.

    Last year was Wade Shows' first operation in North Carolina. When the fair opened, only 69 of the 111 rides had been certified. Workers eventually got most of them running, but had to pay $20,000 in fines for the delays and the rides that never opened.

    The agriculture department had requested bids for a three-year contract instead of the one-year deals it offered from 2003 to 2005. Officials believed that midway operators would be more likely to bid on a three-year contract because it offered more stability.

    The bid sheet that department officials handed out before the announcement had the names of five potential midways operators on it -- James E. Strates Shows, of Orlando, Fla., which won the 2003 contract; North American Midway Entertainment, of West Hollywood, Calif.; Powers Great American Midways, of Burgaw; Reithoffer Shows, of Gibsonton, Fla., which won the 2004 contract; and Wade Shows.

    "It's disappointing," Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. "We had thought there would have been many more companies interested."

    Past bids produced millions of dollars for the state fair, but carnival operators, this year, refused to bid, because they are used to paying states a percentage of total revenues.

    The state started sealed bids after controversy that former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scotte Phipps and some of her associates were imprisoned for alleged conspiracy over midway contracts.

    In 2003, Strates Shows won the contract with a bid of $6.50 per paying customer; Reithoffer won the contract the following year with a bid under $6.

    "The state got spoiled with bids that were way out of bounds," said North Carolina-based ride company owner Corky Powers, who declined to bid. "I'm shocked, but I think companies finally woke up."

    Officials are expected to discuss the department's options over the next couple of days and make a decision. The agriculture department may rebid the midway contract or choose to hire contracts and independently run the rides and games.

    "We've got a lot of time to get everything lined up and to get it perfect -- and we will," Troxler said. "The people in North Carolina will once again see the best state fair in the country."

    The 2006 State Fair is scheduled for Oct. 13-22.

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