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As 2003 State Fair Wraps Up, Changes Are In Store For 2004

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RALEIGH, N.C. — As crews clean up and pack up the 2003 North Carolina State Fair, plans are well under way for next year.

Interim Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb said people have complained about the cramped midway creating fair gridlock. As a result, he announced Monday that next year, the midway rides will be moved to a new, centralized location by the Sam Rand Grandstand and that there will be more rides.

"There's a lot of land in there and it was just not effectively being utilized," he said. "We felt and the staff felt this is something we need to do. We're moving in that direction, and that's the way it will be in 2004."

Cobb said he was pleased with the outcome of the fair, which celebrated its 150th anniversary, and midway operator Strates Shows. James Strates, president of Strates Shows, told WRAL his company lost money on this year's fair, but the loss was worth it to get his company back on the midway.

"For us, this is the Super Bowl of fairs," he said.

Cobb said despite events that preceded the fair, everything ran smoothly.

"I can absolutely assure I saw none of that whatsoever. In fact, Wesley Wyatt included in his exhibitor packet that he did not want to see any discounts or freebies food drinks or anything at concessions to fair employees of NCSA employees," he said.

Strates Shows promised the state the highest payback per fairgoer. Strates said that part of the bidding process needs to change.

"I mean if you want to buy a car, you wouldn't just look for the cheapest car," he said. "You may want a four-door. You may want a silver one instead of a red one. You may want a convertible, so it's not always just price, price, price."

Cobb said the bidding process for a midway vendor is wide open for next year and he hopes to name the fair's next midway operator by Jan 1, 2004.

More than 800,000 people came through the gates for the 2003 N.C. State Fair that ended Sunday at midnight, making it the second-largest State Fair on record.

Near-perfect weather and a great line-up of entertainment brought 833,955 people to the fairgrounds, according to Fair officials.

"There's a lot more to making a successful fair than just the attendance figures," Fair Manager Wesley Wyatt said. "We gauge our success by many factors, including the safety of the fairgoers, whether or not they had a good time and the quality of exhibits and competitions. By those measurements, we had a hugely successful year. I think the attendance is a testament to that and the good weather."

Competitive entries were strong in all categories with record numbers of entries in the folk festival and fine arts and photography competitions. The first year of the scrapbooking competition brought in more entries than expected, and the livestock categories remained strong, with meat-goat entries continuing to rise.

The attendance record of 846,724 was set in 2000, when 10 full days of clear, cool, sunny weather enticed fairgoers to the grounds. This year, a record was set on the first Sunday, when 96,655 fairgoers attended.

Winn-Dixie day at the Fair also brought near-record participation, when more than 200,000 pounds of food was collected in exchange for free fair admission. The food is donated to the Food Bank of North Carolina.

The Fair ended on a high note Sunday night when country music artist Brad Paisley performed before a sell-out crowd in Dorton Arena.

The 2004 N.C. State Fair takes place Oct. 15-24.

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