Powers Great American Midways

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Source: Triangle Business Journal – by Chris Baysden

The North Carolina State Fair’s take from Powers Great American Midways, the carnival operator at this year’s event, is nearly $4.1 million, according to spokesman Brian Long.

The fair already had announced that its attendance at the event topped the 1 million mark. But the carnival operator’s tab is based on the number of paid attendees, which clocked in at 788,318.

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Source: Chris Baysden – Triangle Business Journal

There were a whole lotta people at “A Whole Lotta Happy.”

North Carolina State Fair officials said Monday that this year’s fair – which used the promotional slogan “A Whole Lotta Happy” – broke records for total and single-day attendance.

The fair drew 877,941 attendees this year, beating the previous record of 858,611 in 2007.

The crowd on Oct. 25 also set a single day record of 104,370.

Fair spokeswoman Natalie Alford said that several days of good weather helped boost attendance. She also thought that the recent economic slump might have helped as well.

Tickets for the fair were $7 for adults at the gate and $5 in advance – an affordable recreation alternative for folks who had stayed home and pinched pennies for months.

“People… have been just itching to get out and do something fun and the state fair is fun,” she says.

Powers Great American Midways provided the rides for the fourth time this year. The company is slated to pay the fair $5.50 per paid admission ticket.

That would generate $4.8 million in revenue based on an attendance of 877,941. But Alford said the attendance figure includes some complimentary tickets and that she wasn’t sure yet how much revenue the fair would generate from the event.

The fair ran from Oct. 15 through Oct. 25.

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Robert Boyer / Times-News

On the advice of County Attorney Clyde Albright, Sheriff Terry Johnson reversed his earlier position and has allowed a carnival to open in east Burlington against the wishes of county fair operators Russell and Jeanette Isley.

Citing a state law that directs sheriffs to deny a permit to carnivals and similar amusements that want to set up shop within 30 days of a county’s “regularly advertised agricultural fair,” the Isleys initially convinced Johnson to prevent the Powers Great American Midways from setting up on the northeast corner of Graham-Hopedale Road and North Church Street.

But sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said the sheriff is taking Albright’s advice “after new information apparently came to light.”

The carnival set up Monday and will run through Sunday. The county fair will open May 5 and continue through May 10.

The sheriff initially sided with the fair after the Burlington City Council rejected a similar request from the Isleys to deny the carnival a city permit two weeks ago.

During that meeting, Jeanette Isley said she kept the dates of her fair secret to keep carnivals from setting up around the same time. Such carnivals take customers from her fair, which she said is in danger of “extinction.”

John Paisley, an attorney who represents the owners of the former Western Electric parking lot the carnival leases, said the Isleys’ decision to move the fair from August to May and wait until April 8 to notify a state fair association of the new dates runs counter to the law’s requirement that a fair be regularly advertised.

Paisley said he wrote Albright a “lengthy letter” on the subject.

Albright said Paisley also pointed out another state law that requires the county commissioners to give the sheriff notice 60 days before a county fair if they refuse to allow a carnival to operate in the county.

“I agree with him. He’s convinced me,” Albright said Monday. “The sheriff, in my opinion, cannot refuse” to allow the carnival to operate because Isley “changed her dates.”

Based on this new information, Johnson will follow Albright’s advice, sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said.

Attempts to reach the Isleys on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Isley family member Rusty Isley asked the county commissioners about the situation during the board’s meeting Monday night, and was instructed to speak with Albright afterward.

Carnival owner Les Powers said he has brought a midway to Burlington for 12 years. In that time, he said he has never had a problem with the Dogwood Festival in Mebane, which operates around the same time.

On the other hand, Jeanette Isley “has an ax to grind” against him, Powers said. “It seems like every time I try to do something (in Burlington) this lady tries to block it.”

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By Robert Boyer / Times-news

Sheriff Terry Johnson says he won’t grant a permit allowing the Powers Great American Midways to operate a carnival in Burlington from April 16 through April 25.

Johnson said he made his decision Thursday afternoon after consulting with County Attorney Clyde Albright.

The move is the latest development in a dispute between Les Powers and Jeanette Isley. Powers is the president of Powers Great American Midways; Isley and her family run the Alamance County Fair, which is scheduled for May 5-10.

On Tuesday, Isley asked the Burlington City Council to reject a city permit request from Powers.

Isley said she moved her fair from August after making arrangements with another carnival operator and securing a state license in January, but kept her plans “secret” because an announcement would have encouraged rival carnivals to come to the county around the same time.

Six carnival operators refused her requests to come in the fall; the operator she contracted done extensive billboard advertising for May and she can’t change the dates, Isley said.

Carnivals like Powers drain customers from her fair and don’t return any dollars to the community, she added.

Council members sympathized with her plight, but voted 4-0 to grant the permit after saying the carnival company met the city’s safety and insurance liability requirements.

The sheriff refused her requests to intervene, Isley told the council before the vote.

Councilman David Huffman said the city ordinance had nothing to do with competitive issues or the state law and suggested Isley again seek relief from the sheriff.

Johnson said Thursday he took a wait-and-see position regarding Isley’s request, in hopes that the Burlington council would resolve the situation by denying Powers a permit.

Isley and her family have run the fair for 19 years, she said, mostly in the fall. Last year it ran in August.

AMI and Hopedale Properties own the former Western Electric parking lot at the northeast corner of North Church Street and Graham-Hopedale Road where the Powers carnival is scheduled to set up.

Their attorney, John Paisley, said he had seen no evidence that the fair is advertised and held at regular intervals, as statute 106-516.1 requires.

The Powers carnival is “a relatively small ride business that should be of little or no conflict” with Isley’s fair, he said.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Paisley said. “If they are so threatened by this tiny little carnival, then they probably aren’t going to make it anyway as an agricultural fair.”

On Thursday, Paisley faxed the Times-News a letter from the N.C. Association of Agricultural Fairs.

In it, Executive Secretary Bonnie Holloman said Isley called Wednesday and notified the association she had changed the county fair dates from August to May.

“If you don’t even notify the association until April 8 … how in the world can this be a regularly advertised agricultural fair?”

“My position is that it doesn’t require a permit at all” from the sheriff, Paisley said Thursday.

Although he is siding with Isley this year, the sheriff said he won’t block future permit requests from Powers or other carnival operators unless Isley announces her fair schedule “way in advance” to meet statutory requirements.

But given Isley’s contractual bind this year, “I’m going to have to let her run her fair,” Johnson said.

Despite the sheriff’s decision, Paisley thinks the situation is far from resolved, and said he will advise his clients “to encourage Powers to contact their counsel and fight it.”

“This is clearly a restraint of trade and therefore is unconstitutional,” he said.

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Powers Great American Midways will operate the carnival rides and games at the 2009 N.C. State Fair, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler announced.

Troxler said he and State Fair management chose to offer the contract to Powers for 2009 based on the company’s performance at the past three State Fairs, as well as the financial benefit to the state. State regulations allow the State Fair to enter into a one-year contract with a carnival company without taking bids.

“We’ve got a carnival contract that’s as good as, or better than, any state fair in the country,” Troxler said.

State Fair Manager Wesley Wyatt and Les Powers, president of Powers Great American Midways, signed the contract today (Dec. 11).

The Pender County-based company will pay the state $5.50 for each person who buys an admission ticket to the 2009 State Fair, the same base rate as this year. The contract will again include a provision that allows Powers to lower its payment 20 cents per person by bringing in two rides that are not more than 24 months old and have never played the N.C. State Fair before. The company qualified for the discount this year by bringing in several new rides, including the Mind Blaster and Vortex.

The N.C. State Fair is a self-supporting entity that does not rely on legislative appropriations to operate. The State Fair uses the carnival company’s payment and other revenues for fairgrounds operations and improvements.

The 2009 State Fair will take place Oct. 15-25.

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