Global Dressage & Winter Equestrian Festival Owners Hint at Major Changes to Make Wellington “Unique Equestrian Experience”
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, Mar. 31, 2016–Mark Bellissimo, who heads up Wellington Equestrian Partners that owns the Global Dressage and Winter Equestrian Festival show grounds, gave his first hint of future plans with the acquisition of the International Polo Club to create “one of the most unique equestrian experiences in the world.”
In what was billed as a discussion of the future of WEF and its jumper and hunter disciplines amid concerns that it has become a victim of its own success with over crowding and a decline in qualify of footing and other vital aspects, turned into tantalizing comments by Mark about his views on how the three facilities will be leveraged for the benefit of all horse sports in Wellington.
At least 100 top riders, trainers, officials and owners–the majority both American and foreign from the hunter/jumper world–turned out for the session at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center overlooking the WEF International Arena.
Sharing the platform with Mark was Hunter Harrison, perhaps the leading railroad executive in the world who engineered the turnaround of CN and more recently Canadian Pacific although he is American. He is a significant jumper horse owner and was instrumental in the growth of Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada as well as supporting other major horse show venture. He was also a strong supporter among the Wellington partnership group for the creation of the Global dressage show facilities five years ago. He admitted he was going to quit as one of the partners of the show grounds ownership group but was convinced by the change in the local government and plans to fix problems and make improvements to stay on as long as he could be useful.
Although the meeting was intended primarily to deal with WEF issues of footing, parking, access, over crowding and formats of competitions, the Global dressage grounds that are part of the Palm Beach center was a topic that sparked questions. In five years, the Global circuit that complements the WEF show of 12 weeks over winter has grown faster and larger than anyone could have foreseen.
In addition to Global and WEF, Mark has signed an agreement that he said will be finalized April 25 to acquire the International Polo Club, one of three major equestrian facilities in Wellington. The Wellington partners also recently bought the Wanderers Club, a country club and golf course near WEF.
“Without going into details,” Mark told the meeting, “dressage has already reached capacity. We’re looking at options to move and expand that. I don’t want to go any further than that.
“We believe we have the assets and capital in place to accommodate that and take the pressure off this facility and take pressure off that facility and create one of the most unique equestrian experiences in the world.”
He dismissed one of the most persistent rumors that dressage will move to the former Palm Beach Dressage Derby grounds at White Fences in neighboring Loxahatchee.
“The rumor about White Fences is that it absolutely, positively will not happen, it is not going to happen. The bottom line is it’s never going to happen,” he said to laughter from the crowd.
“Without getting into details,” he said, “we have a great vision for dressage, I believe. We’re getting feedback from that group as we speak.
“I think you are going to see all of our venues provide first and foremost great horse experiences and also great lifestyle experiences across the venues. I’m very very bullish on that experience. The bottom line is we’re going to focus on the horse experience, how it’s viewed, how it’s attained, what opportunitiesa we have to make that experience second to none and we will layer it on a lot of this other stuff in a way that we think is unique to the world.
“We’re going to see all of the venues in this community rival the best in the world within three years.”
Complete details of planned changes would be announced in June, he said.
He said that since the election earlier this month that ended four years of control by a government that obstructed development of the show grounds, he and executives of Equestrian Sport Productions that manages GDF and WEF had met three times with the council that governs the community of 60,000 people 12 miles from Palm Beach.
Mark cited instances where the show grounds were required to spend millions of dollars to improve rod access in and around the show grounds although such infrastructure development was typically undertaken by the government, as was the case in Tryon, North Carolina where he heads up another group of investors that have created a major state of the art dressage and hunter/jumper show grounds.
With the new government in Wellington, he said, some of the hurdles to making improvements or fixing the physical structure were being removed with an awareness that the $200 million annual economic impact was important for Wellington.