Because of the cancellation of the 2020 Kansas State Fair and lack of anticipated revenue, Robin Jennison, the fair’s general manager, announced he is stepping down.
Jennison sent his resignation to the board Tuesday, stating it was an effort to help keep the jobs of full-time employees who work all year to make the fair an annual tradition. The fair board voted unanimously Monday to cancel the 2020 fair, scheduled for Sept. 11-20.
"The impact that COVID-19 has had and will continue to have on the Kansas State Fair will be significant," Jennison said in the letter. "It is my intent that — in serving as the first casualty — it hopefully will lessen the impact on our other employees.
"It will be a welcome surprise if the fair is able to weather this storm without some furloughs or even a reduction in workforce. Having the highest-placed administrator surviving while frontline essential employees bear the brunt is something I will not do."
The Kansas State Fair is a fee-funded state agency. The fair survives on what it makes from each fair, which includes gate admission, grandstand entertainment, food and beverage sales and vendor fees, plus RV park rentals and non-fair events.
In a letter to the Kansas Division of Budget, Jennison noted the fair’s situation and reminded them the state still owes the fair its statutory share to the State Fair Capital Improvement Fund.
The Kansas Legislature was required to match what the fair put into the fund — up to $300,000 each year — to help with building upkeep and improvements. However, those transfers were not made regularly, or on occasion, adequately, for several years — leaving the fair at a more than $1.8 million shortfall to the account.
Subsequently, legislation passed in 2018 allows the Kansas State Fair to capture the portion of sales tax that is generated on the Kansas State Fairgrounds to cover the state’s statutory share. In 2019, this generated about $312,000. However, without the sales tax collections for the 2020 fair, not only will the fair not be able to make the $300,000 transfer to the capital improvement fund, but it won’t collect that amount in sales tax dollars, either.
The first official Kansas State Fair was held in September 1913. For 106 uninterrupted years, the fair has been the state’s largest gathering of Kansans — with not even the Spanish flu, world wars or the 2001 terrorist attacks halting the annual end-of-summer rite.
Jennison said protecting the future of the fair and its employees is the highest priority.
"It has been my great privilege to be given this opportunity to work with an absolutely great staff that love their jobs, work well together and are not afraid to think outside the box," he said. "That is what it will take to get past this, and we need to do all we can to protect the Kansas State Fair’s most valuable asset, our employees."
The 2021 Kansas State Fair will be Sept. 10-19.