James E. Strates Shows has taken the first step toward potentially filing a protest against the New York State Fair's decision to award its midway contract to Wade Shows, according to Jim Strates, president of the Florida-based carnival.
The state fair announced in mid-March it had given the contract to Wade Shows, the Michigan-based carnival owned and operated by Frank Zaitshik.
Strates, which has run the midway in Syracuse for more than 70 years, applied for a debriefing letter after receiving official notice that it was not awarded the contract, Strates said.
The debriefing, as explained in the RFP issued in December, includes a summary of the losing proposal's strengths and weaknesses, as well as recommendations for improvements.
Upon receipt of the debriefing letter, Strates has 10 business days to file a written letter of protest that must address "specific factual and/or legal allegations setting forth the basis on which the protesting party challenges the contract award" by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the entity issuing the proposal.
State officials would be required to review the protest before approving or denying the measure. They would have to provide written notice of their decision within seven days of receiving it, as stipulated in the proposal.
"We're still going through the process," Strates said in late March. "It's going to take a little bit of time."
"We didn't give it up," he said. "There has been a mischaracterization of what occurred. We went through the process and state officials indicated they're giving it to somebody else. I don't want to speculate what happens until they fully explain the process. The debrief will shed light on how things stand."
As it stands now, the decision marks the end of an era for Strates, which has played the state fair for 73 years, Strates said. The carnival is working on a backup plan to replace the New York State Fair with two East Coast dates in late August and early September. One spot is a fair. No contracts are signed for either date, he said.
This season, Strates has obtained two rides from Myers' International Midways after show owner Bobby Myers made the decision to retire from the road. The first piece of equipment, a Chance carousel, is being leased from Myers, Strates said. The second attraction, a Raiders fun house, was purchased outright from the show.
The merry-go-round, a three-abreast model, is a few years old but remains immaculate and looks brand new, Strates said.
Early in the season, Strates Shows was set to play the Seminole County Fair in Sanford, Fla., running from March 28 to April 6. Shortly thereafter, the only carnival that still travels by rail is scheduled to send a truck unit north to play the Hudson Valley Fair in Fishkill, N.Y. and the Brookhaven Fair in Farmingville, N.Y. Both events are scheduled a few weeks earlier this year and cross over with some Florida dates, Strates said.
Brian Schuman's Fair Productions promotes the Hudson Valley Fair. In the past, Schuman has promoted fairs at two New York horse racing tracks, Aqueduct and Belmont Park, Strates said.
"He's a nice guy, does good advertising and we're looking forward to it," he said.
In addition to the looking at new dates to replace the New York State Fair, the carnival is negotiating with another promoter, Al Dorso, to book the State Fair Meadowlands, an event that runs June 20 to July 6. As of late March, no contract was signed, Strates said. The show used to play the Meadowlands when it was managed by Marty Garin, he said.
The midway layout at that New Jersey spot has not changed much after Giants Stadium was torn down several years ago to clear space for the new MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Jets and Giants, Strates said.
Strates officials remain bullish on the technology tied to the Fun Card system, a cashless midway system developed by Ron Burback's Funtastic Shows. Patrons purchase a bar-coded smart card loaded with credit that operates similar to a debit card.
The system helps eliminate fraud on both sides of the business, extending from customers demanding a refund from an unlimited ride special that have been riding attractions most of the day to the independent ride operator who may have shut his equipment down early during the same promotion.
The data Strates collects from the Fun Cards also pinpoints the busiest and slowest periods of operation, which ultimately helps the carnival determine which hours are best to open the midway, Strates said.
"It's a tool that allows you to make those decisions and gross more dollars," he said. "It further legitimizes our operation. We can determine what the customer bought and when they bought it. Under the old policy, it was our best guess as to when people were buying wristbands. It's a much better system."