Jason Rittenberry | Courtesy of the Kentucky State Fair Board

Jason Rittenberry | Courtesy of the Kentucky State Fair Board

The new CEO and president of the Kentucky State Fair Board said he would try to tap into missed opportunities for corporate sponsorships and use new legislation to create an agribusiness center.

Jason Rittenberry, 41, was hired last month to serve as the new CEO and president of the Kentucky State Fair Board. He succeeded Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, who left for a job as president of the San Diego Convention Center.

“I saw tremendous opportunity here in Louisville,” Rittenberry told news media Thursday, calling Louisville an “up-and-coming” city and citing the growth of “bourbonism.”

Rittenberry most recently served as chief strategy officer for Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, a Formula 1 racing site that also includes the concert venue Austin360 Amphitheater and the AT&T Events Center. He also formerly was the president and CEO of IRG Sports + Entertainment, a private company with entertainment and sports venues nationwide.

As head of the state fair board, Rittenberry will earn a base salary of $300,000, with the opportunity to earn an additional $30,000 in annual incentive pay, according to his contract. He also will have access to a shared fleet vehicle and be given a cellphone.

His annual traveling expenses will be covered up to $50,000 annually, which is double what his predecessor’s contract allowed.

Rippetoe earned $250,000 in base salary and did not receive incentive pay; however, unlike Rittenberry, the state paid for Rippetoe’s life insurance, retirement and health insurance. Rittenberry will be required to fund his own insurance policies and retirement fund.

According to the fair board, the state will save nearly $60,000 during fiscal year 2017, when comparing Rippetoe’s contract to Rittenberry’s. Rittenberry’s employment contract runs through June 30, 2018, with an option to renew until 2020.

As president and CEO of the fair board, Rittenberry will oversee the entity’s $46.4 million fiscal year budget and its 265 employees, as well as the fair board-run facilities: the Kentucky International Convention Center and the Kentucky Exposition Center.

Thursday was Rittenberry’s ninth day on the job, and he’s starting to make the rounds, meeting with various stakeholders. He’s already met with members of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, state legislators and state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet members. He also has started preliminary talks with event organizers with whom he’s worked with in the past to try to attract new events to Louisville.

Rittenberry met with media Thursday at the Kentucky Exposition Center to talk about his plans for the fair board and its facilities.

One of the first items on his to-do list is to tap into new sponsorship opportunities by finding corporations that have a presence in Louisville or at one of the fair board’s facilities — be it a snack company or a beer brand. Given the number of agriculture-related events the Kentucky Exposition Center hosts, Rittenberry said, the fair board should be aggressively going after agribusinesses.

The fair board must pitch sponsorship opportunities that allow a company to connect directly and “activate” its consumer base, he said. “It’s not about a sign anymore.”

Additional sponsorship money will increase revenue and allow the fair board to tackle years of deferred maintenance at the Kentucky Exposition Center. In the past, the board has allocated operations dollars toward maintenance needs, which Rittenberry would like to change.

Although the fair board can ask the state for money, “I’d rather look at how we can bring in our own dollars,” Rittenberry said.

Some of those dollars could be private funds as well.

A piece of legislation signed into law this year allows state and local governments to create public-private partnerships to fund transportation and infrastructure projects. The law provides incentives to private developers that meet criteria established by the Finance and Administration Cabinet. Projects that cost $25 million or more would need approval from the Kentucky General Assembly.

With the passage of that law, Rittenberry said he is “very optimistic” that the fair board would be able to work with a for-profit developer to build a hotel near the Kentucky Exposition Center, which he said was previously economically unfeasible.

It also could allow the fair board to partner with a private company to create an agribusiness center. If that project went through, the fair board would finally be able to tear down old Cardinal Stadium, he said, at a cost of about $3.5 million.

“It’s unsafe. It’s unsightly. It needs to go,” Rittenberry said, noting that without a project like the agribusiness center to take its place, the stadium would remain.