, which operates out of Michigan and Florida, offered to pay the state more than $5.91 for each person who pays to attend the fair.
Ron Weber of Wade Shows is thrilled about the prospect of bringing rides to Raleigh, but admits there is risk in the high bid.
"It's hard to know until you count the money next year and see if you made a profit or not. That's the important thing," he said.
Wade Shows' bid was ahead of Reithoffer Shows of Gibsonton, Fla., which offered more than $5.76. Reithoffer operated the midway last year. James E. Strates Shows of Orlando offered $4.02. It operated the midway in 54 of the past 56 fairs.
Jim Strates said the high bid process is squeezing the carnival industry.
"A company [could] fail to pay the state because they don't have the money because they go bankrupt at the State Fair because of inclement weather," he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Britt Cobb says the fair manager and the attorney for the state Agriculture Department will go over the contract offered by Wade Shows before signing it.
The process is one way to prove to the public that the fair's rocky history will not repeat itself. In 2002, Amusements of America ran the rides and games at the State Fair. Behind the scenes, deals linked to the contract erupted in scandal.
Indictments sent former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps and some of her former assistants to prison. Amusements of America President Morris Vivona Jr. pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about illegal cash payments.
Strates Shows filed a federal suit, claiming its business was damaged when Phipps made deals with Amusements of America.
Ever since the scandal, Agriculture Department officials revamped the bid process. Despite the grumbling, Agriculture leaders contend the bidding works, bringing in record revenues to the fair.
"It's open. It puts the burden on the carnival to do the math and put forth a figure they're comfortable with," State Fair Manager Wesley Wyatt said.
Commissioner Britt Cobb contends taking sealed bids removes the possibility for scandal and ensures the best financial return for the fair.
Cobb also says the State Fair has doubled what it makes from the midway operator since opening the bid process in 2003. In 2002, the State Fair made $2.1 million. Last year, the fair earned $4.2 million.
The state Agriculture Department is also dealing with some controversy over the Mountain State Fair in Asheville. Fair leaders rejected the highest bidder because the company was not pre-qualified. That carnival operator is now considering legal action.
The selection will take place even though the state still
does not know
who will be running the agriculture department for the next four years.
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