The newly reorganized and sworn in Kentucky Horse Park Commission selected Laura Prewitt on Thursday as executive director of the state equine facility.
After more than an hour and a half behind closed doors in executive session, the board decided not to renew current director Jamie Link’s contract, which expires at the end of June. It’s unclear exactly how many voted to approve Prewitt. Several members appeared to abstain from voting; no one voted against the motion.
The move came two days after Gov. Matt Bevin reorganized the unpaid board that governs the 1,224-acre park, booting off former first lady Jane Beshear, who had been appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear in his last days in office. Link was hired by the previous commission appointed by Steve Beshear.
“It was the decision of the commission, and I think we have a very, very strong commission. We have a good blend of institutional memory and new ideas,” said Don Parkinson, secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. “There was no cause, it was just they decided to go a new direction. And Jamie’s a good guy and he’s done some good work. But it’s time for a new direction and that’s what the commission decided.”
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Parkinson denied that the switch was political.
“This is not a new thing. This has happened three times before,” he said. “This is all about making the horse park bigger and stronger.”
Prewitt has not met Bevin, she said.
The new financial, planning and marketing committees would be putting together a strategic plan, which is likely to include a new push for a hotel at the park, Parkinson said.
Prewitt applied in December for positions at the Kentucky Horse Park and at the Kentucky Racing Commission, “knowing those are my comfort zones,” she said.
After the board vote, she said she had not expected to be selected.
“I’m very excited. ... I’m looking forward to continuing a lot of the good things that are going on out here,” said Prewitt, adding she does not expect any hiccups with the transition because the event calendar has been set.
Both Parkinson and Prewitt said they are unconcerned about the audit of the park’s finances that State Auditor Mike Harmon’s office will begin next month.
“From what I’ve heard I do not think there’s anything improper,” Prewitt said. “There might be little things, policies. But I’m not concerned.”
Prewitt’s contract has not been negotiated, she said, so she doesn’t know what she will be paid or for how long. She was contacted about six or seven weeks ago about the job, she said. Besides Link, no other candidates were interviewed at Thursday’s special meeting.
“I’m a very qualified person. I wanted this position. I feel very honored I was elected,” said Prewitt, who ran the Breeders’ Cup Festival in Lexington last fall. She also was general manager of Kentucky Off-Track Betting, which oversaw simulcast wagering at four locations for several state Thoroughbred tracks.
Link, who previously was executive director of the 2010 World Equestrian Games, had been criticized by state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. But under Link the park’s finances have improved, according to figures released at the last commission meeting in March. Revenue was up 15 percent last year and gift shop profits up 227 percent.
Link’s contract expires June 30; he said he wants to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“I want to help Laura any way I can. She’ll do a terrific job, and we’ll make sure of that,” Link said.
Cabby Boone, chairwoman of the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation, said she was disappointed Link’s contract was not renewed “because of the growth I’ve seen at the horse park, but we’re not surprised. We look forward to working with Laura Prewitt and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation will continue to do what it does, which is raise money and help the horse park. I do think it’s important for us to understand what this new commission’s vision is.”
Lee Carter, executive director of Equestrian Events Inc., which puts on the annual Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the park’s premier competition, also said his group plans to continue its long history of positive relationships with the park’s executive director.
A study by the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet found that the economic impact of the Kentucky Horse Park in fiscal year 2010 was $180 million including $18 million in generated state tax revenue. The World Equestrian Games — which took place at the horse park in 2010 — had an estimated impact of $201.5 million, including $18.4 million in tax revenue.