Local News

Strates Selected To Run Midway At 2003 State Fair

Posted July 30, 2003 5:49 a.m. EDT

— After a one-year absence,

Strates Shows

will return to run the midway at the North Carolina State Fair in October.

Strates submitted the top bid Wednesday among five companies seeking the midway contract. A contract between the Orlando, Fla.,-based company and the state Department of Agriculture was expected to be signed Thursday.

Last week, interim Ag Commissioner Britt Cobb narrowed the choices for a midway operator down to five:

  • Combined submittal from

    Conklin Shows

    of West Palm Beach, Fla./

    Powers Great American Midways

    of Burgaw. N.C./

    Astro Amusements

    (Thebault) of South Barrington, Ill./

    All Star Amusements

    (Blomsness) of South Barrington, Ill.

  • Combined submittal from

    Wade Shows

    of Auburn Hills, Mich./Murphy Brothers Exposition of Tulsa, Okla.

  • James E. Strates Shows

    of Orlando, Fla.

  • Farrow Shows Inc.

    of Jackson, Miss.

  • Reithoffer Shows

    of Gibsonton, Fla.

  • "The amount of the bid will be the amount that the bidder will pay the North Carolina State Fair for each paid attendee," Cobb said.

    On Wedensday, companies wanting a shot at the N.C. State Fair contract brought in their sealed bids. Strates Shows won with its bid of $6.50 per paying customer.

    Jay Strates, of Strates Shows, said that was one reason the company decided to bid so high and cut profits so close.

    "This has a lot of meaning to it because of our history here of more than half a century. My grandfather was here, my father and now a third generation, so it's very meaningful to us," he said.

    Strates Shows had operated the midway for more than 50 years before former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps replaced the company with Amusements of America.

    The contract had been at the center of a corruption probe and campaign finance scandal that led to Phipps' resignation last month.

    Acting commissioner Britt Cobb later canceled the contract with Amusements of America because of the company's close relationship to Phipps and illegal fund-raising.

    Many observers question whether Strates Shows' quality will match the midway run last year by Amusements of America. To earn the right to bid, Strates had to show it has access to ride inventory similar to the 2002 state fair. The company had to produce proof of liability insurance, safety records, and disclose information about any pending litigation or investigations.

    "Well, the bid specifications are pretty strict. They are responsible to provide a certain number of rides. They are responsible for providing a kiddieland similar to what we had last year," said State Fair Manager Wesley Wyatt. "We're confident we'll have equal to or better than what we had last year in terms of midway quality.

    Despite the sealed bidding, many critics said they are not surprised Strates is back in charge.

    "I think people naturally feel some suspicion about this process," said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation.

    However, Hood believes that skepticism only goes so far.

    "It's hard to image that, the way they did the sealed bids. How they manipulated this process. It they did so, they deserve an Oscar," he said.

    Officials are projecting more than 500,000 people will visit the State Fair starting Oct. 17.