Tryon Budgets Up to $60 Million To Stage World Games at $125 Million Show Grounds–Part 1 of 3

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Artist's rendition of hotel and spa as well as housing to be built at the Tryon International Equestrian Center that will house riders and grooms at the World Equestrian Games in 2018.
Artist’s rendition of hotel and spa as well as housing to be built at the Tryon International Equestrian Center that will house riders and grooms at the World Equestrian Games in 2018.

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

MILL SPRING, North Carolina, Nov. 7, 2016–As much as $60 million has been budgeted to stage the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon International Equestrian Center on which about $125 million has been spent in the past two years creating perhaps the most ambitious, complete and efficient show grounds in the world.

Mark Bellissimo, who heads up the group that has personally financed construction of the facility, promised in an interview with dressage-news.com to seek to “re-define how these Games are presented” by engaging spectators in ways to inspire and develop horse sports

Few doubt he will succeed, after turning the first sod just two years ago on what he likened to “an Iowa cornfield” from the movie Field of Dreams but in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a scenic region in western North Carolina with little infrastructure and not much more of a future for many of the 1.4 million people living here.

The can-do approach to these Games–the second to be held in the Western Hemisphere since the combined championships of international equestrian sports was created in 1990–is typified by Mark Bellissimo’s attitude to funding:

“This is all private capital. No one would ever invest in this kind of project so we needed people who were crazy enough to build something in an Iowa cornfield. So I picked up the phone and called our partners.”

“I’m in,” was the response.

The governments of North and South Carolina–TIEC is on the state line–jumped on board immediately and the U.S. Equestrian Federation that formally made the bid has backed the project unreservedly. William Moroney, the USEF chief executive, was at the news conference in Charlotte, North Carolina announcing the WEG.

But government involvement is relatively minor, mostly providing tourist promotion and making highway access to the show grounds easier

And, Mark laughed that he prefers the deadline of about 20 months to the five years typically provided past hosts of the WEG. As he has shown in Wellington, Florida he completely overhauled the Winter Equestrian Festival grounds in nine months and built the Global Dressage Festival facility from scratch in one year.

Stables at Tryon. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Stables at Tryon. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

What has been built on the 1,600 acres/650Ha of TIEC at Tryon already and what is to come by the fall of 2018:

–1,200 permanent stables–sold out during some of the 39 weeks of international and national dressage, jumping and eventing competitions, and a promise to build more if needed;

–12 arenas with the same Olympic quality footing as the Wellington show grounds;

–Centerpiece and floodlit George Morris stadium with spectator seating up to 12,000 and VIP seating for up to 1,500. More seating will be available if demand warrants;

–A covered arena already constructed and to be enclosed that will have 5,000 seats for reining and vaulting at the WEG, and

–A major extension of the cross country course for eventing that will turn the course created for the American Eventing Championships from one that earned rave reviews into what will likely be one of the best in the world. As with the first course, the entire cross country will be designed by Mark Phillips on land that had been used originally as a golf course but retaining much of the spectacular natural environment with the rare if ever addition of footing in parts for the sake of the horses.

Part of the eventing cross-country course that was built for the American Eventing Championships. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Part of the eventing cross-country course that was built for the American Eventing Championships. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Work has already begun extending the eventing cross-country course through this area that was part of a psrtially developed golf course. The course will also be used for driving marathon. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Work has already begun extending the eventing cross-country course through this area that was part of a psrtially developed golf course. The course will also be used for driving marathon. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Other aspects critical to the success of WEG at Tryon:

–Housing for at least another 1,000 people will be built on the show grounds to add to the accommodations for 200 that already exist. Mark founded a factory with state-of-the-art equipment from Sweden to produce pre-fabricated housing that will accommodate grooms and athletes during WEG and then sold afterward;

–Both Mark and Sharon Decker, the dynamic chief operating officer for Tryon, have been meeting with tourist development groups as well as hotel/motel operators in North and South Carolina seeking their commitment to hold prices at no more than 20 per cent above rates of the past two years. The effort was sparked by what were described around the world as “extortionate” rates demanded in Kentucky in 2010;

–Tickets will go on sale in January but pricing has not yet been decided. Kentucky introduced the widely unpopular system of breaking daily sessions into separate parts–morning and afternoon dressage Grand Prix , for example–with separate tickets required. Normandy adopted the same system four years later that produced ugly scenes of elderly and infirm spectators being forced by French security guards to vacate seats after the morning session to make their way down steeply inclined soccer stadium stairs then to make their way back to the same seats for the afternoon session;

–Feeding thousands of spectators, riders, officials, volunteers and media. Nine restaurants are already within the Tryon show grounds, but not enough to handle thousands of participants and spectators expected to attend the World Games in 2018. Aachen, that hosts dressage, jumping, eventing, driving and vaulting at its CHIO each year as well as the 2006 WEG and the 2015 European Championships, has been the most successful. It is another part of its well oiled machine that produces what is regarded as the best horse show in the world. Lexington was great for high paying VIPs, mediocre for spectators and others while at Normandy pretty much everybody in the main stadium outside of VIPs had to hunt for food outside as there wasn’t any on the grounds.

A 13-acre field for jumper and hunter derbies that is undoubtedly the most advanced technologically in the world with specially developed durable grass is also in use but likely won’t have a use for WEG.

The covered arena at Tryon that will be enclosed and seating installed for 5,000 spectators. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
The covered arena at Tryon that will be enclosed and seating installed for 5,000 spectators. © 2016 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The thinking behind the creation of Tryon, Mark Bellissimo explained, was with the World Games in mind–but for 2026 not 2018.

“I believe we’re going to run one of the most interesting World Games,” he said, “I think our facility was built to support it. The footprint we have here lends itself to that. The best run WEG was Aachen. Everyone else was focused on assembling a venue, putting together a one-trick pony.

“Tryon is a venue built for commercial integration with the sport.

“We’re spending a lot of money building the gold standard.”

Part 2: WEG by the numbers