Letter: Support For Zoning Change

As chairman of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce Equestrian Committee, a longtime Wellington equestrian and business owner, I strongly support the proposal to change zoning designations of portions of the International Polo Club Palm Beach.

First, this move benefits the equestrian community in Wellington and the entire area business community. We all know many businesses that prosper during the equestrian season and yet barely survive the off season. This change potentially makes Wellington a national and international sports destination, with equestrian events in the winter and a variety of other sporting events during the summer, from national soccer and lacrosse championships, to a host of additional sporting events.

Second, the proposed change is on the border of the equestrian preserve in an area already commercial and next to other developed properties. This location inside IPC does not change the nature or equestrian lifestyle of Wellington. The heart and soul of the equestrian preserve is unchanged.

A recent Palm Beach County Sports Commission report concluded that the Winter Equestrian Festival generates more than $200 million in annual revenue and more than 130,000 bed nights in local hotels. That’s comparable to the Super Bowl, not one time, but rather every year. Now, here’s the shocking conclusion in that same report: 94 percent of those 130,000 bed nights are outside of Wellington and the immediate area. Those visitors come specifically to Wellington, drive to Wellington from some hotel, and then every night drive back out of Wellington, spending their restaurant, shopping, hotel and all other dollars outside of Wellington.

The 94 percent who come and go every day generate a minimum of two trips per day. Here for a week, that’s 14 trips minimum. House them in Wellington, and that traffic drops to two trips the entire week — one coming in and one going out. That’s what a “destination resort” does. It captures the people, the dollars and the prosperity.

Providing additional hotel space allows Wellington to compete for more summer sporting events. This has the potential to make Wellington a year-round sports community — one of the most desirable industries any community could want.

Mark Bellissimo’s proven commitment and performance has turned what was once a “week to week” permitted event in tents, to a multiple-discipline, permanent international sports event that has become a family entertainment event, as well as hosting the Great Charity Challenge, one of the premier charity fundraising events in the Palm Beaches.

Finally, the primary objection is that this threatens the equestrian lifestyle. Quite the contrary. Wellington’s land itself is nothing special, agriculturally speaking. The equestrian preserve’s success and viability of Wellington is due to one thing: the Winter Equestrian Festival. The equestrian lifestyle is here due to the success of the Winter Equestrian Festival. Without it, we’re Parkland — once an equestrian community and now no longer. It died as Wellington’s equestrian community would without the success of the horse show.

We strongly support the request to allow these changes.

Victor T. Connor, Chairman, Wellington Chamber of Commerce, Equestrian Committee