Wellington Pulls Bid for 2018 WEG, Cites Political Obstacles from Local Government

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Palm Beach International Equestrian Center main show grounds. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

Wellington, Florida, on Monday withdrew its bid to host the 2018 World Equestrian Games because of a politically-generated campaign by the local government that could undo millions of dollars in major improvements to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center over the past five years.

Withdrawal of the application was sent to the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) and the U.S. Equestrian Federation by Equestrian Sport Productions that organizes the world famous Winter Equestrian Festival and the newly created Global Dressage Festival.

The decision to withdraw was made just two days before presentations by candidate cities for the WEG to the FEI in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The cities remaining as candidates are Vienna, Bromont, Canada and Rabat Morocco.

The FEI issued a statement that noted ESP’s decision to withdraw its bid because of a change in the local government.

“We are sorry Wellington will not be pursuing their bid,” FEI Secretary General Ingmar De Vos said, “but we have three other candidates that have all put in very strong bids for 2018, so there is still plenty of excitement about the bidding process, and that excitement will certainly be increased when the bid teams come to FEI HQ this week.”

Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners that owns the Palm Beach show grounds, said: ”After extensive deliberations and analysis of the entire situation, including two years of planning and development efforts in support of a WEG bid, the Operating Committee of WEP unanimously agreed that the recent actions taken by the newly-elected members of the Wellington Village Council (Greene, Wilhite, and Margolis) to impede the development of equestrian sport in Wellington has forced us to withdraw our bid for the games.”

A majority of the five-member council whose election earlier this year after an acrimonious and divisive campaign recently voted to essentially shut down the new Global Dressage Festival grounds. Millions of dollars had been spent to create one of the top venues in the world. Equestrian Sport Productions has started a new round in the bureaucratic process to obtain operating permits.

Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington, Florida. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Michael Stone, president of ESP, said in a statement, “We have a responsibility to the community, equestrian sport, and the FEI World Equestrian Games not to waste the time, effort and resources of all parties involved in the international selection process.

“The newly elected majority of the Village Council is attacking those venues that would host the event.

“Their intent is to make enjoyment of and participation in equestrian sport restricted to the elite. This is contrary to the best interests of the WEG and to the economy of Wellington. Despite their continued public statements about supporting our new dressage facility and of the equestrian industry in general, their words are disingenuous when compared to their recent and pending actions.”

The World Equestrian Games are held once every four years as the global championships of dressage, driving, endurance, eventing, jumping, reining and vaulting and a separate paralynpic schedule. The first WEG was held in 1990 in Stockholm and since then have been staged in the Hague in 1994, Rome in 1998, Jerez, Spain, in 2002, Aachen, Germany in 2006 and Lexington, Kentucky in 2010. The 2014 Games are to be held in Caen, Normandy, France.

ESP proposed to hold the 2018 WEG over two weeks starting Oct. 1 which would have brought about 650 athletes and 750 horses to compete. The October date presented weather and tourist issues. The average temperatures are a high of 85 degrees F (29C) and a low of 71 degrees F (21C) in October and is in the official hurricane season of June to November. The month is not a vacation period in the northern or southern hemispheres.

Economic data from the 2010 WEG in Lexington, Kentucky, showed:

–$233 million direct economic impact plus over $100 million indirect economic impact;
— Over 200,000 lodging nights;.
–507,000 attendees;
–450 million global TV audience;
–430 hours of overall broadcast time;
–105 countries broadcast WEG, and
–About 1,600 media representatives from around the world cover the event.

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on improvements by Wellington Equestrian Partners that owns the show grounds, the home of the Winter Equestrian Festival attracting riders from around the globe with its 12 weeks of competitions and $6 million (€4.9 million) in prize money.

The local government, a majority of whom were elected with financial backing from a family-owned conglomerate that objects to development of the show grounds, has hired a law firm at a cost to taxpayers of $250,000 to review the construction permits since the show grounds were taken over by ESP five years ago.

Wellington became an official candidate city when it met an April 30 deadline to complete their applications to host the WEG.

The Florida bid was made by ESP before the Village of Wellington withdrew approvals for a new dressage facility built at a cost of $7 million as part of the Palm Beach equestrian center that itself has undergone a $25 million rebuilding in the past five years.

The withdrawal of the ESP bid is a huge blow to Wellington’s reputation built over 34 years to become the world’s premier winter equestrian destination.

Members of the Village of Wellington council that governs the city of about 55,000 people just 18 miles (30 km) from storied Palm Beach island supported the WEG application when it was proposed two years ago, but some members were voted out of office this year. One of the first actions of the new council was to reverse approvals for the dressage complex although the horse show organizers shelved plans for a hotel on the same site, a proposal that had divided the community.

Palm Beach County and Florida state sports and tourist agencies as well as hotels and other businesses that would benefit economically strongly supported the WEG application.

No outside financing or taxpayer money would have been needed to stage the WEG at Wellington. Operations and additional capital improvements would be funded from ongoing operations and sponsorship.

A study commissioned by ESP estimated WEG visitors would spend 60,000 bed nights in South Florida, 25,000 of them in Palm Beach County for the event in October, a bonus for Florida’s tourist industry that peaks over the winter months. Wellington is close to major tourist attractions including Miami, the Everglades and Disney World, Universal Studios and other major attractions in Orlando, about a 2 1/2-hour drive.

A study by Deloitte, commissioned by the FEI, found that the WEG in Aachen, Germany in 2006 had an economic impact of $291 million, $41 million more than Super Bowl XLIV in Miami in 2010. The economic impact of the 2010 Kentucky WEG was put at $233 million.

At the Kentucky WEG, spectator spending was almost $100 million, plus $11 million in team expenditures and $45 million for event management, sponsors, trade stands and the media, according to the Deloitte study.

Another $80 million was spent building new outdoor and indoor arenas and other upgrades at the state-owned Kentucky Horse Park for 2010 WEG.

Most of the capital improvements required at a WEG in Wellington have already been made and were self-funded on an ongoing basis.

With the completion of the new dressage facility that includes one of the world’s largest covered arenas, the only significnt project remaining at Wellington would be a course for eventing cross-country and driving marathon which would have cost an estimated $500,000.