Charlie & Kimberly Jacobs Lose Court Battle to Have Global Dressage Festival Grounds Torn Down, Jury Rejects All 21 Counts of Jacobs Claims

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Global Dressage Festival grounds in Wellington, Florida with grass derby field for jumper, hunter and eventing competitions. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Dec. 11, 2017

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The Jacobs family lost a lawsuit seeking to have Wellington’s Global Dressage Festival grounds torn down when the entities led by Mark Bellissimo prevailed Monday in a Palm Beach County court jury unanimously siding with the developers of a permanent Equestrian Village for international dressage, jumping, eventing and para dressage. The Global show grounds rank among the best in the world and the loss would have been a devastating blow to American dressage.

The jury returned a verdict within two hours rejecting all 21 counts of the civil lawsuit after a 10-day trial. The suit filed five years ago by Charlie and Kimberly Jacobs and the Jacobs’ family Solar Sportsystem, Inc. of New York sought to restore polo fields to what is now the Global grounds, part of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

The suit named several entities including some owned by Wellington Equestrian Partners that owns the show grounds and event organizer led by Mark Bellissimo. The Global Dressage and long established Winter Equestrian festivals of jumpers and hunters are staged at the Palm Beach center that Mark’s group formed 10 years ago when taking over the equestrian shows in Wellington.

It was not immediately known whether the Jacobs would appeal the decision.

Mark Bellissimo would not comment at this time.

Over the past several years, the Jacobs family has spent millions of dollars pursuing the lawsuit and also financially supporting campaigns of local politicians opposing use of PBIEC’s Stadium show grounds for the Olympic equestrian disciplines.

The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) has approved World Cup jumper events at the Jacobs’ estate a few hundred yards/meters from the Global grounds at the same time as events are held at the Palm Beach center.

Charlie Jacobs on Leap of Joy competing in 2013 at the Palm Beach International Center’s Stadium complex made up of the grass derby field and the Global Dressage Festival grounds after filing the lawsuit in Circuit Court to have the facility torn down. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Several millions of dollars have been spent on creating the dressage show grounds on 63 acres (25.5 Ha) on what was Wellington’s main polo field in the 1970s through the 1990s that attracted several thousand spectators for games. Britain’s Prince Charles accompanied by his then wife, Princess Diana was a celebrity player there in 1985. Construction of the nearby International Polo Club along with a hurricane that destroyed the concrete spectator stand ended its life as a polo spectator venue almost two decades ago.

Wellington Equestrian Partners bought the site 10 years ago and in 2011 created a new dressage circuit with both international and national events as well as para dressage and youth jumping events. The grass derby field was constructed for jumpers, hunters and eventing competitions.

The original plans provided for a year-round facility with permanent stabling for 600 horses, a permanent VIP pavilion, condominium hotel and an equestrian-themed boutique shopping and restaurant mall.

Olympic and World Equestrian Games riders Robert Dover, Lisa Wilcox, Michelle Gibson and Oded Shimoni with Mark Bellissimo at the Global Dressage Festival ground breaking ceremony in 2011. File photo. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The Global dressage proposal followed Mark Bellissimo’s turnaround and transformation of the Winter Equestrian Festival that had deteriorated under the ownership of the Jacobs family.

Opponents whose election campaigns were supported financially by the Jacobs family blocked much of the proposed development at Global. The result was permanent stabling for 200 horses only, a covered arena funded by Kimberly van Kampen, one of the Wellington partners, and the derby field. The other 400 horses stalls and the VIP pavilion were allowed only in temporary tents. The condominium hotel and retail mall were blocked complrtrlytotally.

Even so, the international dressage competitions of the top ranked CDI5* and CDI4* and a Nations Cup, the only such events in the Western Hemisphere, plus four World Cup events with total prize money unequalled anywhere in the world have become a top rider and spectator draw on the international calendar.

If the Jacobs suit had been successful, the loss of the Global grounds would have been a serious blow to the economy of Wellington and surrounding areas and cost hundreds of jobs. The effect on dressage in all of the Americas–it is a major competition center for Canadians and for riders from Central and South America in addition to riders and trainers from across the United States–would be devastating.

Explosive growth in the past decade of the Global Dressage Festival and jumping’s Winter Equestrian Festival has led to a need to further expand.