The Miami-Dade County Fair's 2008 edition, March 27 through April 13, finished down 10% from 2007's attendance. CEO Phil Clark said the fair faced strong competition from the Food and Wine Festival, final matches of the Sony Ericcson Open, Miami Heat and Florida Marlin games and the 2008 Star World Sailing Championships during the event's 18 day run.
Along with the entertainment challenges, they faced "a few raindrops", high winds and economic distractions in south Florida including the ever-rising fuel costs.
The Miami-Dade County Fair attracted more than 600,000 visitors, placing them once again among the largest and most successful fairs in the nation. Admission to the fair was $9 for adults and free for children five years of age and younger. Hours of operation were 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 10
p.m. on weekends with rides operating until midnight. Special early noon openings were held on two Fridays, March 28 and April 4, 2008.
The fair offered a wide assortment of free live entertainment options both new shows and returning acts with new twists. New entertainment options included The Stars of the Peking Acrobats; ShaeLaurel, a nationally known family show band; Live Shark Encounter; Rowdy Rooster Puppet Show and Upbeat, a high energy dance group featuring percussion and acrobatics.
Returning acts included Rhythms on Ice at the Fuchs Pavilion; Royal Hanneford Circus; Wild World of Animals and Show-Me Safari Petting Zoo, Pig Races and Pony Rides.
Another popular fair event was the daily Mardi Gras Parade. Each day at 6:30 p.m. fair guests were treated to a Mardi Gras style parade that featured a new celebrity Grand Marshal each night, floats straight from New Orleans , strolling entertainment, samba dancers and drums.
Deep fried or baked, sweet or sour, no matter what their taste buds craved, the fair had close to 200 food vendors offering a wide selection of traditional favorites such as elephant ears, corn dogs, popcorn, roasted corn and cotton candy as well as some new offerings from throughout the country such as deep fried cheesecake and fresh squeezed orange juice.
In 2008, for the first time, all food was cooked with zero trans fat cooking oil, following a growing national trend.
Close to 50,000 student and adult exhibits and competitions were held during the annual south Florida event. The fair continued to award more than $125,000 in college scholarships to 60+ dedicated high school seniors, one from each public high school and six private schools in Miami-Dade County. The awards go to students who are planning to attend an accredited college, university or trade school.
The fair has contributed over $2 million in scholarships for the program made possible through the proceeds earned by The Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition Inc. during the 18 days of the fair and off-season facility rentals.
THE MIDWAY AND NAME NEWS
On the midway in 2008, fairgoers had their last opportunity to ride the largest and most popular portable rollercoaster in Miami-Dade County Fair history, the Doppel Looping, which is slated for removal this year.
North American Midway Entertainment (NAME) fielded a massive 100 ride lineup. Rides were supplied from each of the NAME units supplemented by Jane Baxter's Space Roller and Amusements of America's Avalanche roller coaster.
Jeff Blomsness of NAME said ride gross was very similar to last year. "People came out less during days when the rides were only on tickets (Sat./Sun.)", he said.
The midway featured a popular wristband promotion Monday through Friday. They also had school day promotions for bus loads during days when school was out.
Asked about the card swipe system which reportedly had operational difficulties, Blomsness said they used it at the fair and it worked well. "It was a big challenge", he added. The system works with a barcode and is capable of incorporating food and games into the system.
NAME made several new purchases for 2008 including a new Starship "Area 51" from Wisdom which will be traveling on Blomsness', All Star Unit. The All Star unit is managed by Carl Snoddy and Rich Wyatt. NAME also purchased a second Mega Drop that will be floating around all the units as well as two new Freak Outs, one of which will be traveling on the Astro unit. In addition to new rides, they did a lot of winter quarter work to renovate some of their existing equipment.
Looking ahead to the future, Blomsness said they will be watching the economy to see what the fuel and foreign labor does after their big fairs this year and will then make a decision on next year's purchases.
Like all carnivals, NAME is very concerned with rising fuel costs. Some of the ways the company has been combating these cost increases include paying close attention the number of rides at each event and cutting the hours generators are running. They have also been experimenting with using permanent electrical lines at some of their fairs in Michigan and will be installing the same type of system at the Porter County Fairgrounds in Valparaiso, Indiana this year. In addition, they have been doubling many loads and using fuel efficient generators wherever possible.
Blomsness has been personally involved with the energy crisis in a new business he started along with NAME partner Danny Huston. They opened an Ethanol plant in Windsor, Indiana where they are major investors. So far, said Blomsness, the venture is going well.
To help with transportation issues, NAME opened a new truck driving and training facility for their employees. Here they train drivers and help them get their Commercial Driver's Licenses (CDL). They have been using incentive programs to reward their workers when they reach designated performance milestones.
NAME was not affected as much by the H2B visa caps as other companies. They applied early this year and received approximately 400 Mexican and South African workers for their US operations and additional workers for their Canadian operations. Many return each year and provide a good base of help and experience for the show.
Blomsness expressed concern about the future of the carnival industry due to rising fuel costs, unavailability of labor, and other operations difficulties. He speculated that a rise in insurance is probably coming as prices have not increased significantly in several years. Through his efforts in the OABA and showmen's organizations and his work with Blomsness-Thebault Enterprises and now NAME, Blomsness helped build the industry and doesn't want to see carnivals closing due to the increased financial challenges.
Blomsness said his company was working on some new dates they hope to announce soon. "It is getting harder and harder to find good locations in the Chicago area", he said. Committees are having difficulty securing open space to hold annual events in the city he noted.