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June 25, 2014

Tryon Equestrian Partners Announce International Equestrian Center And Resort

Tryon Equestrian Partners announced officially today, June 25, the Tryon International Equestrian Center and Tryon Resort. Located in Mill Spring, N.C., the center is located on 1,400 acres that were formerly part of the planned White Oak Community.

The equestrian center currently features four competition rings—each with footing from Equestrian Services International and its own warm-up area and shade structures by the in-gates and on the sides—and four barns with 500 stalls total. Future plans include a large international arena with adjoining, 9,000-square foot VIP center, five competition grass rings, a sixth competition sand ring, a covered arena, 500 more stalls and additional schooling locations.

The TIEC will host its first competition, a U.S. Equestrian Federation premier event, July 2-6, though the international arena is slated for completion in early August, as is the 400' by 240' covered ring. 

As part of the TIEC, there is also an RV Park with its own clubhouse, plans for a sports complex that includes a pool, exercise equipment and tennis courts (due to be finished in September) and log cabins available for rental (six are completed with 14 more planned). More rental houses will be built within the former White Oak area. 

A Salamander Hotel with 150 rooms, pools, a restaurant and bar and retail shops will be built into the hillside overlooking the equestrian center and is slated for completion in 2016. Nearby farmettes, connected by bridle paths, are also planned for upcoming development, as is the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, additional houses and a Salamander Resort & Spa. The Tryon Equestrian Partners purchased 30 properties between the former White Oak site and the equestrian center, located immediately off of I-74, to join the two.

Currently TIEC has prize lists posted for a summer series run in conjunction with the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club, which runs competitions out of nearby FENCE, with competitions July 2-6, July 9-13 and July 16-20.

“Today we are presenting our vision for Tryon Resort and Tryon International Equestrian center,” said TEP managing partner Mark Bellissimo during an event announcing the projects. “It’s rare in your life that you get a chance to really change a community. I was introduced to this area by good friends Roger and Jennifer Smith, and they’d always been huge advocates for this community. Roger would talk about the difficulties [it faced during the economic downturn]. We’re trying to promote the vision now, which is to create one of the most significant equestrian lifestyle destinations in the world while maintaining the rural character and tradition in this community.”

The construction began in January 2014 and so far has involved moving 1.6 million cubic feet of dirt. It has employed 500 people throughout the construction project.

From White Oak To Tryon International

Roger Smith, a founding shareholder of the Tryon Equestrian Partners has lived in the Tryon area with his wife Jennifer since 2000. They became familiar with the White Oak facility when it was a planned housing development—including 800 lots—and a golf course.

“The fact that it was such a great equestrian community is what drew us to the area initially,” said Jennifer. “Roger had some family in the area, and the climate is great. I do the hunters and jumpers, and at the time Roger was doing foxhunting and eventing, and here you’re surrounded by all those disciplines.”

Tryon Equestrian Properties, which includes Roger, purchased the White Oak land and completed infrastructure in late 2012 for $11 million after the development filed for bankruptcy.

“I’d pass the property every day,” said Roger, who also owns land nearby that has a steeplechase track and will eventually host a cross-country course. “My wife and I bought a lot in there when it was first started, but when it reached hard times and failed, the owners reached out to me.”

“I think the location works well,” added Jennifer. “I think you have a lot of people very excited about large-scale equestrian activity again in this area.”

Tryon Equestrian Partners—founding shareholders Mark and Katherine Bellissimo, Roger and Jennifer Smith, Gwen and Howard Dvorkin, Lisa Lourie, Diana and Jenji Mercer and Joe and Cindy Mitchell—are several of the same shareholders from Wellington Equestrian Partners. Bellissimo, who designed the layout of the Tryon facility, looked to plan and build the new equestrian center based on his experience with the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla.            

“Palm Beach County in the winter is very beautiful, but as we know, it’s very expensive and only accessible to a narrow base of people,” said Bellissimo. “I think this can be an equestrian destination that can be much more accessible and attractive, both geographically and financially, to a broader base of people who are passionate about horses and want to pursue that passion in a more cost-effective manner. While I believe there will be some crossover from Wellington, I believe we will be offering a more diverse product, so I would expect a more diverse clientele.”

As part of the plans for TIEC, Bellissimo worked to separate golf cart, pedestrian and equine traffic. He also wanted to ensure non-horsey family members would be entertained during the competitions.  

“The vast majority of facilities in this country, including Wellington, have evolved over time and were built incrementally without the benefit of a long-term plan,” said Bellissimo. “We've been able to adapt the facility in Wellington to make it safer and more spectator friendly, but it is challenging and expensive. Here we are taking a bold and risky step of trying to create a facility that is engineered from the ground up to support all levels of sport within multiple disciplines and is safe, efficient, and has a high level of hospitality and entertainment integrated into the product for all customers.”

All Tryon Equestrian Partners hope they can strengthen the economy of Mill Springs, Landrum, S.C., Tryon, N.C., and the surrounding areas in Polk and Rutherford Counties. 

“We’re doing this because we’re very passionate about the area and the community and the sport, and it’s a great way to further all those things,” said Jennifer. 

Editor’s note: The Bellissimo family owns The Chronicle of the Horse LLC, and Mark serves as its publisher.

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