World Games That Politics Drove From Wellington to Tryon

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Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, Florida. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Nov. 3, 2016–Three politicians financed by a billionaire family miffed at the creation of the Global Dressage Festival blocked development of Wellington’s show grounds that led to investment in a new facility in North Carolina that Thursday was named as host of the World Equestrian Games in 2018.

Two of the three were ousted from Wellington’s local government council in March in a landslide in favor of a new mayor and another candidate supporting equestrian events in Wellington while the third is a career politician up for election next Tuesday as a representative to Florida’s state house.

However, the opposition over four years of the mayor, Robert Margolis, vice mayor John Greene and their ally, Matt Wilhite that controlled the five-member council, was the major hurdle to development of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center that hosts the Global Dressage Festival and the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington. About 3,000 horses from dozens of countries compete in Wellington for each of the 12 weeks of the winter circuits.

The ownership and organizing group led by Mark Bellissimo this summer added the International Polo Club to the marquee equestrian show grounds in Wellington. Part of IPC will be used to create a new state of the art dressage facility to help handle the enormous growth of horse sports in the community less than 20 miles from the luxury oceanside community of Palm Beach.

The Delaware North Corp., one of America’s largest food service and hospitality enterprises with operations in Europe and Australia and owned by the Jacobs family, contributed more than $1.3 million in the past two elections to support candidates they favored

The family, that also filed a lawsuit still on the court docket to have the Global grounds torn down, contributed $600,000 four years ago to elect three of the five members of the council to strangle development of equestrian show facilities.

This year, the family donated $720,000 in support of a campaign to control all development including grooms’ quarters on horse farms in the equestrian preserve that is a significant portion of Wellington.

The Jacobs’ campaign for candidates was successful four years ago and so was their drive this time around that flooded the airwaves with television commercials supporting amendments to the community’s charter, the kind of campaign that is virtually unheard of involving a relatively tiny community such as Wellington that has a population of about 60,000.

Equestrian Sport Productions that is operated by Mark Bellissimo to manage the horse shows in Wellington as well as Tryon, at Central Park in New York and Parker, Colorado had applied to host the WEG in Wellington in 2018.

However, ESP announced withdrawal of its bid because of opposition by the local government to development of equestrian facilities that raised doubts timetables could be met.

Bromont near Montreal was eventually selected as the last remaining bidder despite widespread concerns over the ability of the Canadian group to get fundng.

However, between the time Bromont was named and then pulled out two years later, political opposition to the horse shows in Wellington led to Mark Bellissimo to turn his attention to other equestrian ventures.

Tryon, where Roger Smith, one of the founding partners of the Wellington Equestrian Partners that own the Florida show grounds, owned a horse event facility was selected.

Tryon International Equestrian Center on 1,600 acres/650Ha is in Mill Spring in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains and about an hour west of Charlotte which has an international airport with direct flights to Europe.

The main arena at the Tryon Interntional Equestrian Center. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
The main arena at the Tryon Interntional Equestrian Center. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

In about two years of construction costing about $100 million, 1,200 permanent stables, 12 arenas including a floodlit international arena named for George H. Morris after the legendary Olympian and coach, with a potential spectator seating capacity of up to 12,000 and VIP seating for up to 1,500. A covered arena with 5,000 seats that would likely be used for for WEG reining and vaulting has already been built.

A world-class cross country course designed by Mark Phillips was built this year to be used for both eventing and driving.

The venue is surrounded by hundreds of miles of equestrian trails for endurance in the foothills of the which had –was initially rejected By the time But those political obstacles have mostly been overcome.

A permanent housing complex has been built along with a motel-style accommodation block.

Economic impact of the WEG in Kentucky was estimated by a government study at $201.5 million/€142 million at then exchange rates in direct and indirect spending.

Canada's Ashley Holzer on Dressed in Black after winning the Grand Prix at the inaugural CDI3* at Tryon, North Carolina. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Canada’s Ashley Holzer on Dressed in Black after winning the Grand Prix at the inaugural CDI3* at Tryon, North Carolina. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com