All plans for development at the site of the future Global Dressage Festival were recommended for approval during a meeting of the Equestrian Preserve Committee at Wellington City Hall, Fla., on Dec. 14.
The meeting gave residents a chance to air their support or opposition to the development known as the Equestrian Village Master Plan Amendment.
Insults and accusations have been traded in recent months between those who see the venture as an exciting step forward for dressage and those fighting against what they believe to be overdevelopment of protected equestrian land.
First announced by Mark Bellissimo and Wellington Equestrian Partners in March of 2011, the Global Dressage Festival was designed to become for dressage what the nearby Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is to show jumping.
With world-class jumping and polo facilities thriving in Wellington, dressage enthusiasts have felt left behind. Bellissimo and WEP aim to build a dressage facility and commercial “gateway” to change that. Six competition areas, including an indoor arena, and permanent and temporary stabling, are already under construction. Commercial space that will be home to a hotel, condos, retail space and offices are planned at the southwest corner of the property.
“I have had to spend half of my adult life in Europe competing in dressage,” said six-time Olympian Robert Dover, who has been a strong proponent of the project. “What I’ve dreamed of is a time when Europe would find it necessary and appealing to come to our town of Wellington and see it as their winter home, just as has happened in the worlds of jumping and polo. I’m a huge supporter of the belief that we can have a world-class showgrounds that will bring the best in our sport together.”
The site is within Wellington’s equestrian community known as The Equestrian Preserve. WEP purchased the 96-acre parcel of land bordered by Southshore and Pierson Roads in 2006. Although it has a rich history in polo, jumping and steeplechase events, it has gone largely unused in recent years.
For Dressage, Against Development
All meeting attendees stated that they were in favor of a dressage facility, but the planned retail and hotel developments became contentious as members of the public took the opportunity to speak.
The newly formed Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance was in attendance at City Hall to oppose development of what they termed “a mall, high-rise condominiums, fairgrounds and even an RV park” at the Global Dressage Festival site. Concerns centered around an increase in traffic and the fear that with one commercial development approved inside the Equestrian Preserve, more would follow.
“This hotel has been described as the size of a New York City walkup,” said Mat Forrest, Executive Director of the WEPA. “When I think of the equestrian world, I don’t think of New York City walkups. Condos, offices, spas and the rest just don’t mix with horses.”
However, Bellissimo and engineer Michael Sexton stated that no mall, fairgrounds or high-rises were planned, instead displaying renderings of the competition grounds and a tiered, five-story hotel.
“In the same way that a group of people told us in 2006 that the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center wouldn’t work, we are facing the same challenge today,” countered Bellissimo. “I think we’ve proven that we can make a successful international venue. Now we’re addressing another void: a world-class dressage facility in the heart of Wellington.”
Bellissimo also outlined plans to engage the general public with a riding academy, educational components and planning for multiple uses of the covered arena.
Approving The Unproven
The subject of competition dates arose when Wellington resident and dressage show manager John Flanagan pointed out that when the issue came up during the recent U.S. Dressage Federation convention, the ambitious schedule of CDI dates granted to WEP was not approved for the GDF site.
“The [High Performance] Committee would never approve dates for a facility that’s not even constructed yet,” said Flanagan. “All licenses and applications were granted for WEP’s existing facility, which is the PBIEC showgrounds on Pierson Road.”
Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone was quick to state that while final approval won’t be given until the facility is completed, the U.S. Equestrian Federation has allocated 10 weeks of CDI-rated competition dates, and an inspection is planned.
The equestrian facility, which is currently home to earthmovers and construction activity, must be completed and approved as a competition site prior to the first show on Jan. 24. The retail and hotel component is not expected to be complete until late 2013.
Next up is a public hearing on Jan. 4, where the Local Planning Agency will review the Master Plan Amendment and the recommendations of the Equestrian Preserve Committee.