Show Promoters: Wellington Uniquely Qualified WEG Host

Members of the Wellington Village Council met Monday with representatives from Equestrian Sport Productions to discuss hosting the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

“This is one of those events that has a tremendous impact on the community,” CEO Mark Bellissimo said. “I think, in many ways, Wellington is uniquely qualified as a venue to do this.”

Wellington has a second chance at hosting the prestigious event after dropping out of the running last year. At a meeting last month, council members said they wanted to discuss the issue with show promoters before deciding whether to support the application to host the games.

Equestrian Sport Productions placed a bid last year to host the games but later withdrew it, citing a lack of support from council members. However, no formal presentation had been made before the council.

Though council members hoped to discuss the issue further at Tuesday’s meeting, discussion of the Equestrian Village site dominated discussion.

Bellissimo noted that the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) contacted his organization about reapplying to play host in 2018. “They sent us a letter saying they wished us to reconsider,” he said.

Bromont, Canada, a suburb of Montreal, was initially chosen to host the games, but the city was unable to earn the financial support required before a bid can be secured. On July 1, the FEI announced that it would reopen bidding.

“We wanted to open a discussion with [the village] to see if there is an interest in pursuing a bid,” Bellissimo said. “There is no requirement that we have a collaboration with the village, but we believe it will be more successful if it’s a collaborative effort.”

Kentucky, which hosted the 2010 games, announced it will bid again for the 2018 games. Bellissimo said that the United States Equestrian Federation is likely to support only one U.S.-based venue to host the games. “They will make their decision before the Nov. 15 application deadline,” he said.

The 2010 event in Kentucky had $233 million in direct impact on the economy, Bellissimo said. He said it brought in 507,000 spectators over two weeks, with 405 million more watching on television. Approximately 250 hours of live television were broadcast to 105 countries across the world.

“The equestrian industry has a $200 million impact in Palm Beach County each year,” Bellissimo said. “This would give us the opportunity to double that impact and bring people to Palm Beach County from across the world.”

The date of the games is flexible, but Bellissimo said he would look to host in October, which is a slow period for most of the county.

The World Equestrian Games is made up of eight events: show jumping, dressage, reining, eventing, endurance, driving, vaulting and para-equestrian competition. Bellissimo said that show jumping and dressage would take place at their respective venues, with reining and vaulting done under the covered arena at Equestrian Village.

For the eventing competition, which requires large stretches of land spread out over miles, Bellissimo said legendary course designer Mark Phillips came to Wellington to map out a course using nearby golf courses and local bridle paths. The driving and endurance competitions could use a similar course, he said.

Councilman John Greene asked whether the courses had to be submitted in the application, and Bellissimo said they did not.

“Once we submit the application, they’ll come and do site reviews,” Bellissimo said.

He said the FEI would work to evaluate event staging, traffic, parking and other concerns before making a decision in April or May. The bid would be announced in the summer.

The World Equestrian Games would bring in fewer horses and riders than the Winter Equestrian Festival, Bellissimo said. He said WEF sees about 5,500 horses over the entire circuit, with a peak of about 2,800 horses in one week. Comparatively, the games host about 845 horses over two weeks.

“Between [PBIEC] and Equestrian Village, we have permanent stalls for almost all those horses,” he said.

Bellissimo said that unlike many venues that have hosted the event, Wellington already has much of the necessary infrastructure in place. Many communities that secure an event such as the World Equestrian Games or the Olympic Games spend millions on infrastructure that will hardly be used again.

“We have, by far, the largest equestrian venue and facility,” he said. “We are one of the few spots in the world where our infrastructure supports an annual business that has almost as much direct impact on the community as the event itself.”

Bellissimo said that with the use of the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center and Equestrian Village, no permanent infrastructure improvements would need to be made. “There are a lot of challenges, but I think it would be a limited investment compared to anywhere else,” he said.

Bellissimo said the village’s role probably would be in helping to facilitate traffic and permitting for parking and other issues.

Further, Equestrian Sport Productions President Michael Stone spent many years working for the FEI, meaning he knows what it takes to host the games.

“He has been involved in every event since 1990,” Bellissimo said. “In his opinion, we could probably throw the event next year.”

To help with traffic and other issues, Bellissimo said the events would be broken up throughout the week into morning and evening events, with only one major competition running at a time. That way, he said, empty rings could be used for parking.

“We could also keep traffic on the outskirts of Wellington by shuttling people in,” he said, pointing to the Mall at Wellington Green as an option for parking.

Greene said he thought the event could be beneficial. “At face value, I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

But he noted that Kentucky was still $10 million in debt and asked Bellissimo what he would do differently. Bellissimo noted that Wellington is a different community.

“We run a big show,” he said. “We already have relationships and experience that we can use.”

Bellissimo said he hoped to get local support. “If people work together collaboratively, it’s less expensive and more productive,” he said.