Letter: Council Must Help Equestrians

As most of us know by now, Wellington was a potential site for the FEI World Equestrian Games to be held in 2018. Our town was one of five possible world locations to host the games for a 15-day period.

The Palm Beach County Sports Commission, the Economic Council and the Business Development Board were all supporting Wellington in our quest to be approved by the FEI commission.

However, due to a non-supportive village council who had infrastructure concerns (Councilman John Greene), cost issues (Mayor Bob Margolis) and other general constant concerns from Councilman Matt Willhite, which lend an overriding concern from [Equestrian Sport Productions President] Michael Stone and [CEO] Mark Bellissimo that they did not have the full support of the council, they withdrew their application.

In 2010, the games were held in Kentucky, which had over $200 million economic impact to region and state as a whole. We could have been the beneficiary of the same type of economic boost. Our council needed to step up and see the benefit to our local businesses and retail merchants as well as the opportunity for many part-time jobs for our youth and students in our community.

Our previous council had approved Equestrian Sport Productions’ applications for master plan amendments and applications to develop a new modern “gateway to the Equestrian Preserve” at the old Palm Beach Polo complex on the corner of Pierson and South Shore.

However, because the Jacobs family owns a large equestrian farm nearby on Pierson Road and did not want a new dressage arena and stadium on the grounds, they funded a major opposition campaign to what the previous council had approved and assisted in campaign support for the newly elected council members, including Margolis. I find it amazing that our newly elected members have hired an independent agent to review the previous council applications and audit in an effort to reverse all approvals and stop any new equestrian improvements.

Thus, they are bent on a path that destroyed Wellington Equestrian Partners’ ability to get approval for the FEI games in 2018. Lost revenue for all our businesses and lost opportunity for our local Realtors to showcase our home inventory to potential visitors.

Additionally, they have hired and approved over $250,000 for a new legal team to review all previous applications. It seems the current three council members are pursuing a path of destruction and non-equestrian development policy being true to their funding agent Mr. Jacobs and his wishes.

We are now on a path of unnecessary major taxpayer expenses for legal fees, outside consultant additional legal service fees, and hours and hours of staff time to review all previous council approvals and now subject staff and the Wellington Equestrian Partners team to a lengthy “special” review of all previous approvals in a witch hunt to destroy any equestrian improvements they had hoped to make to enhance our major industry.

I wonder if the Palm Beach Gardens City Council took a similar adversarial position to any improvement PGA and its golf courses makes, or if the City of Boca Raton treats any petitions for traffic changes for Office Depot’s world headquarters.

When an adversarial government acts in a negative manner toward its largest businesses and employers, it does not take the corporate owners long to look for others places to relocate.

Wellington residents and elected officials have to make a decision. Do you want our town to remain the premier equestrian center in the United States and allow continued improvements and upgrades to keep it that way, or do you want to reduce it to a few local upscale farms and not bring tourism and their dollars here to assist in our local economy?

I urge the village council and the Jacobs family, to roll up their sleeves and pitch in and help Mr. Bellissimo and his partners and not be a burden and work together to make reasonable equestrian improvement developments to keep us the equestrian capital of the United States.

Al Paglia

Editor’s note: Mr. Paglia, a former Wellington Village Council member, was an unsuccessful candidate in the recent Wellington elections.