FLORIDA’S GLOBAL DRESSAGE FESTIVAL STILL UP IN AIR FOR 2013
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Florida’s Global Dressage Festival grounds newly built a cost of $7 million to be a world-class showcase for the Olympic sport was saved from another potential setback Tuesday night By political maneuvering over a proposed stop-gap approval to use the facility.
The latest wrangling came just a day after the International Equestrian Federation approved Wellington as one of five cities as candidates to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games, a Super Bowl-sized equestrian extravaganza whose economic impact on Florida could be a quarter of a billion dollars.
The council was to consider, and most expected it to reject, a request to grant approval to use the facility subject to conditions.
Instead, Equestrian Sport Productions that organizes the Wellington dressage shows succeeded in blocking council action because of late notice by the government.
Consideration has been re-scheduled for July.
Actions by the recently elected majority on the Village of Wellington to revoke all permits for the new dressage venue could threaten the bid to host WEG at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center of which the dressage complex is a part.
The organizers last winter underwrote almost $300,000 in sponsorship of five CDIs–including the only 5* in the Americas in 2012 and the first non-championship Nations Cup in the Western Hemisphere. The Nations Cup was a bold step to help move the entire Americas to Grand Prix from small tour at the next Pan American Games as the qualifying level for the 2016 Olympics.
Adequan, a horse supplement company, had signed on to become the title sponsor of GDF for three years at a total cost believed to be close to $500,000–neither ESP nor Adequan would disclose the amount. A meeting between ESP and Adequan is expected to be held in the next few weeks to review the sponsorship arrangement.
The dressage complex was among the most ambitious and costly endeavors for a singe-discipline facility in the Americas and possibly the world.
The hostility by the Village of Wellington council to it was the latest setback to the sport in Florida and the Americas in the past few months.
Future sponsorship of the €100,000 World Dressage Masters Palm Beach has become a question mark with the conviction and sentencing to 16 years imprisonment of John Goodman on driving under the influence manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges. His International Polo Club in Wellington underwrote the cost of the event the past two years.
Las Vegas, which had hosted the Wold Cups of dressage and jumping in 2005, 2007 and 2009, last week lost out to Guadalajara, Mexico, to host the 2015 annual global championships.
The GDF complex in Wellington had attracted worldwide attention with many top riders from Europe and throughout the Americans planning to join the winter circuit from December through April.
The quality of the show grounds, prize money and the weather in Palm Beach County where the average winter daytime temperature is a summer-like 74 degrees F (23C) were cited as the main attractions.
The main Palm Beach horse show grounds of which GDF is a part attracts about 2,000 horses per week for the 16-week Winter Equestrian Festival of jumpers and hunters. More than $25 million has been spent upgrading the grounds in the past five years that has led to record numbers of riders from more than 30 countries competing for at least $6 million in prize money.
The Village of Wellington council that governs the city of 55,000 people had approved the proposal to build the dressage complex of five world class outdoor arenas. a permanent spectator deck, hundreds of state-of-the-art permanent stalls and a covered arena bigger than three full-sized dressage rings, making it one of the largest anywhere. Both dressage and jumper riders suggested it might be capable of hosting World Cups as a climax to the Winter Equestrian Festival, the largest and longest running horse show that has been 35 years in development.
A resort condominium hotel and retail plaza proposed as key elements of the dresage complex were opposed by many residents of Wellington for fear of causing traffic problems and that the commercial elements violated the Equine Preserve that covers a large slice of the community about 12 miles (20km) west of Palm Beach. A heavily funded campaign led to the majority of the council that approved the original proposal being ousted in an election earlier this year.
One of the first acts of the new council was to seize on the late filing of some documents–what is typically viewed as a technicality remedied by a fee–to revoke all permits for the entire site that included the dressage facilities. The decision came after ESP shelved plans for the commercial aspects of the development in an effort to win approval for dressage shows.
The decision means that although the GDF facility is ready and available for use and had been offered to charities and non-profit groups to use free of charge for up to a month a year it is not allowed to be used for any activity.
Guards are posted to prevent any activity on the site, including bypassers walking or driving through what used to be the main polo field in Wellington where Prince Charles played watched by his then-bride, Princess Diana two decades ago. The polo club included a large permanent concrete grand stand to accommodate spectators numbering as many as 15,000 a match. The grand stand was demolished four years ago because of serious damage from a series of hurricanes.