One of the most lucrative - and longest - midway/fair relationships has come to an end. After a reported 72 years providing the midway for the New York State Fair, James E. Strates Shows is out and Wade Shows Inc. is in.
A midway provider being replaced is certainly not unheard of, but the New York State Fair switching carnivals possesses a uniquely palatable drama. The New York State Fair, which began in 1841 and is considered one of the longest running fairs in the United States, recently implemented a new RFP process that shook up how the fair awards contracts, even one with a history of nearly three quarters of a century. In addition, the New York State Fair midway contract spans an entire decade. Fairs locking in one midway for this duration of time is rare after an RFP process.
"We have midway contracts with many major league fairs as big as New York, but none have garnered the interest and the publicity of this one," said Frank Zaitshik, President/CEO, Wade Shows Inc. "The fact is that everything is bigger in New York. We can't wait for the opportunity to show the New York State Fair, and all of their customers and all of their vendors, exactly what we can do."
"We couldn't be more excited about the new rides and attractions that Wade Shows will bring to the Midway of the New York State Fair this year," said Richard A. Ball, Acting Commissioner, New York State Fair. "Over the years, this company has gained a deserved reputation for increasing both revenue and attendance at agricultural fairs, while providing a superior entertainment product for Fairgoers. We greatly look forward to this new era at the Fair, which we believe will be exciting for the thousands of visitors who come to this mecca of upstate tourism every year."
NEW RFP PROCESS
New York State Fair contracting procedures were overhauled three years ago, when the state agency in charge of the fair, the Industrial Exhibition Authority, disbanded and the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets took charge of the fair. "We changed the RFP process when the fair was folded into Ag and Markets, " said Dave Bullard, spokesperson, New York State Fair.
Bullard added that while the announcement that Wade Shows won the New York State Fair contract is official, some details are still being finalized, thus he could not discuss the specific agreement in depth. The multi-million dollar contract is the New York State Fair's largest vendor agreement.
The Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse.com) reported: "In the past decade, Strates paid the state a total of $10.2 million to run midway rides and concessions, according to the state comptroller's office... Wade will pay the state $750,000 a year, according to the request for proposal. That's up from the $565,000 flat fee that Strates paid annually. The new contract also requires Wade Shows to share its ticket ride sales." The $750,000 minimum payment was mandated in the current RFP.
According to Bullard, when an open call went out, six midway companies initially participated in the RFP process and three companies actually submitted final proposals, including James E. Strates Shows. "The Department of Agriculture and Markets follows the state's procedure for soliciting and evaluating proposed contracts," said Bullard. "The bidding was open to any company that could meet the specifications in the RFP and attended a mandatory meeting during the 2013 Fair to view the Midway in operation."
One of the distinctive features of the New York State Fair contract is its length of term - under the agreement, a midway will be providing rides, foods, games and other attractions for an entire decade. According to Bullard, the final contract with James E. Strates Shows that concluded in 2013 was also for a 10-year period, although he was unable to comment on the RFP process of 2003 that led to the renewal of the a decades-old, ongoing agreement between James E. Strates Shows and the New York State Fair.
"The 10 year term was intended to entice as many qualified bidders as possible in order to provide the best possible outcome for the Fair, it's fairgoers, and taxpayers," said Bullard. "A winning bidder would receive the long-term stability needed to commit to a very large event like the Fair and allows for adequate investment on both sides."
"I really have to commend the New York State Fair over the integrity of the RFP process," said Zaitshik. "The process went to great lengths to tell perspective providers who they can have contact with and what kind of contact they can have. We listened very loud and clear and followed those rules."
The extensive RFP asked potential bidders about experience with large events such as the New York State Fair, the company's safety record, ride selection, midway operations, guest relations experience, special pricing and promotions, aesthetics, references as well as a proposed new layout of the midway area. Finally, a "cost proposal" had to be submitted showing the percentage the company was willing to pay above and beyond the $750,000 guarantee and the dollar amount per foot for concessions.
The "technical proposal" side that included midway operations and references was worth up to 75 points in scoring and the "cost proposal" was worth up to 25 points.
Each proposing company was then invited to Albany on March 5th for an oral presentation that was not scored, but gave the selection committee the opportunity to ask questions and gain clarification on the proposal.
The contract was awarded one week later on March 12th.
The Syracuse Post-Standard reported: "It's one of the top fairs we play," Strates spokesman George Weston said. "It's very important to the survival to the Strates family." Weston declined to comment after hearing Wade was selected."
According to the RFP, Strates grossed $2,453,784 in 2010, $2,400,693 in 2011, $2,306,864 in 2012 and $2,193,426 in 2013. The state received $1,088, 934 in 2010, $1,074,305 in 2011, $1,073,163 in 2012 and $973,541 in 2013. Strates also booked approximately 3,000 feet of concession space each year, paying the NYSF $55 per foot.
In a news story, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported: "The James E. Strates Shows spent $180,000 to lobby state Ag & Market officials in 2012 and 2013 as its contract to provide the midway show at the New York State Fair neared expiration, according to state records...Strates also donated $4,000 to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's campaign fund during 2010 and 2011, according to records."
According to Bullard, "attendance at the 2013 Fair was about 851,000, about the same as the year before, in spite of nine days with precipitation in our core market over the 12 days of the Fair. The percentage of paid attendance, however, hit an all-time high."
For 2014, the fair plans several new attractions, including an expanded "Live Cow Birthing Exhibit," the Taste NY exhibit, featuring " New York-based food vendors, an expanded "History of the Fair exhibit," and "we will return the Wine Court (a tent full of New York wines and wine slushies sold by various New York companies) to our Colonnade, which is adjacent to the stage for our twice-daily free concerts on Chevy Court," he said. "In addition, we are pursuing a strong lineup of paid admission concerts at our Grandstand. We have already announced concerts by Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley, with more announcements coming soon."
At the New York State Fair, Wade Shows will provide a minimum of 63 rides, including two roller coasters, 25 food stands, and 70 games and novelty stands.
The timing of the 2014 fair - August 21st to September 1st - "Is a perfect fit," said Zaitshik. During August and September, Wade Shows provides the midway for the Delaware State Fair and the Wayne County Fair in Honesdale, PA. But in between those fairs, "we had a two week void with no major events," he said.
In the interim, Wade Shows has been at a shopping mall in Nashville. "This beats sitting in a shopping mall in August," he said.
The midways at the fairs that will bookend the Wade's Empire State gig will also benefit. "We will be able to enhance our presentation at the Delaware State Fair. It now makes some economical sense to bring some multiple truck rides to that fair, including our RC48 Coaster, which will be the first time we've brought that to Delaware. There's a possibility we can have more rides at the Wayne County Fair, although their space there is more limited."
To say that Zaitshik is ready for the challenge is to understate the level of his enthusiasm and commitment to the event. "The New York State Fair will be one of the best things that we have ever done. We welcome the scrutiny and being under the microscope of such a high-profile fair.. I've spent a lifetime, building a foundation, one brick at the time, or as a our company motto says, "One Smile at a time". I am looking forward to bringing that philosophy to New York," said Zaitshik.
Even though he won a highly contested bid, Zaitshik acknowledged the strength of his competition. "Our hat goes off to Strates. They are a third generation and working on fourth generation Midway who has had great success in New York and in other locations."
"I'd like to thank James E. Strates Shows for creating a lifetime of memories for Fairgoers over the past seven plus decades," said Ball. "Your friendship to The Fair and your contributions to building and promoting tourism in Upstate New York will never be forgotten."