On April 2, Mark Bellissimo, managing partner and the largest shareholder of Wellington Equestrian Partners LLC, called for Mason Phelps to resign from his role as president of the National Horse Show and his seat on the U.S. Equestrian Federation Board of Governors due to his comments in an April Boston magazine article titled “Trouble In Paradise.”
The article, written by Jason Schwartz, chronicled the ongoing feud between the Jacobs family, including Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, and Bellissimo regarding the growth of the Village of Wellington. The Jacobses disagree with Bellissimo’s mission to expand the International Equestrian Center and the property surrounding it, seeing him as a businessman first instead of a horseman.
The article included a remark from Phelps, whose Phelps Media Group handles press for the Jacobses’ Deeridge Farm as well as the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance, which was created in part to oppose Bellissimo’s efforts to build a new dressage facility as well as a shopping mall and hotel complex.
“Nor did we want to attract the kind of people the Akon concert would attract to this community…. The people that go and listen to and like Akon are not Wellingtonites. It’s just a different crowd of people. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but this is a fairly upscale community, and we don’t need to bring the low- and middle-income hooligans into town and have them all of a sudden say, Wow, good pickins’ out here,” said Phelps in the article.
Bellissimo called Phelps’ comment “shocking” and “an inappropriate classist comment that is not welcome in our community.”
However, Bellissimo and Phelps have a history before those inflammatory comments. “Mason Phelps is not welcome at our facility because he unsuccessfully and inappropriately tried to discredit the Great Charity Challenge (GCC), an organization that was co-founded by my daughter and is a passion for our family, our organization, our partners, and the community at large,” said Bellissimo. “The GCC event has done wonderful things for this community and his actions were shameful and misguided.”
“[The comments] were taken out of context over the course of one and a half days spending time with that reporter,” Phelps responded. “They have tried to interpret my comments as racist; they absolutely were not. My reference to all of that was that I am a property owner adjacent to that field, and the thought of having rock concerts or concerts of any kind in my backyard in a residential community, I find offensive.”
He also specified that the comments were not in any way referencing equestrian activities, only open-air concerts.
The Boston article also quoted Michael Whitlow, a member of the board of the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance, as saying, “I would like to see Wellington be the elite of the elites. The absolutely crème de la crème, the top of the top, as opposed to something for everybody.”
In a statement through Delaware North Companies Inc., the Jacobs family said, “Mason Phelps and others made their comments in Boston magazine not as spokespeople for the Jacobs family but as business and property owners. The only spokesperson for the Jacobs family in the article was Lou Jacobs.”
Lawsuits have continued from both sides of the table even after the Wellington council voted to allow the 2012-2013 Adequan Global Dressage Festival. In May the council voted to revoke the master plan for the Equestrian Village project, which was to include both competition and commercial space.
“As it relates to concerts or other activities taking place in the equestrian preserve, we support activities that support the purpose of the preserve. This issue is a community one—it’s not about one family, or even more important—one developer. It’s time to move the conversation back to what’s right for this community and understanding the importance of the Wellington community having a master plan. Those decisions are for a larger group of citizens to decide,” said the Jacobses’ statement.
Chrystine Tauber, president of the USEF, declined to comment about the USEF’s position on the matter. Attempts to contact representatives from the National Horse Show went unanswered.