Jerry Murphy has been as much a part of the Tulsa State Fair the last four decades as cotton candy and pizza-on-a-stick.
In fact, some would say the big, colorful carnival operator is an attraction himself.
But not for much longer, perhaps.
The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, commonly known as the fair board, last week gave Expo Square staff the go-ahead to begin drafting paperwork to put the midway contract out for bid. The request for proposals, called an RFP, is expected to be reviewed by the authority within the next month.
That’s big news. Murphy has had a lock on the midway contract since 1972.
His current agreement was signed in 1989. That’s right; the man received a 25-year deal.
To be fair, it was actually a 15-year deal with two 5-year options that each required fair board approval.
But you get the idea: We’re talking about an institution here, and a big business, to boot.
In the last five years, Murphy’s Spectacular Attractions grossed $9.4 million operating the midway at the Tulsa State Fair.
The fairgrounds itself, which receives a cut of the midway ticket sales, received $3.7 million.
Those are big numbers. So why is the authority thinking about other options?
“Tulsa State Fair has had the same midway contractor for years,” said County Commissioner and fair board trustee Karen Keith. “As the contract expires, it is only prudent that we do an RFP.”
County Commissioner Ron Peters, chairman of the fair board, isn’t ready to sign off on an RFP yet.
Murphy has been part of the fair for more than 40 years, Peters noted. He’s a local contractor and he has given back to the fair generously through the Junior Livestock Auction.
“There is a lot to consider,” Peters said.
In fact, Peters added, the RFP process is in the early stages and “no decision is even being considered.”
Murphy told The Frontier that he was unaware that the fair board was working on an RFP for the midway. And he didn’t sound sure whether he’d be seeking the contract should the authority decide to seek bids.
“Who knows?” Murphy said. “I don’t know what they are going to do.”
Murphy, who declined to give his age, said he’s semi-retired. Spectacular Attractions, however, continues to plug along.
It’s had the midway contracts at the Missouri and North Dakota state fairs for almost 50 years, Murphy said, though he doesn’t get to them as often as he used to.
“I don’t have to be there,” he said. “I’ve got good people working for me.”
Murphy says he’s in good health in part because he’s never been a smoker or “a druggie.” And he tries to eat well, though he can’t stay away from the chocolate.
“I wish you could take a pill to stop,” he said.
And that’s where the conversation ended. Then Murphy said goodbye in that low, gravelly voice that has added to his mystique all these years.
Whether he’ll also be saying goodbye to the Tulsa State Fair, only time will tell.
Year Spectacular Attractions TCPFA
2010 $1,655,100 $642,279
2011 $2,005,660 $763,725
2012 $1,766,437 $681,799
2013 $1,919,608 $766,988
2014 $2,028,979 $818,256
Total $9,375,784 $3,673,047