Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners LLC (WEP), has announced an initiative dubbed “Wellington 3.0” that aims to transform Wellington into the “Equestrian Capital of the World” for sport, commerce and lifestyle.
The initiative aims to transform Wellington from the “Winter Equestrian Capital of the World” to a year-round equestrian destination.
Bellissimo noted that 2022 was a record year for show jumping, dressage and polo in Wellington. The events attracted more than 5,000 families from 50 states and 43 countries, and contributed an estimated $200 million of annual economic impact to Palm Beach County.
With this success, he said, come challenges and a need for reinvention driven by the growth of the events, new market demands, new competitors and the significant migration of full-time residents to South Florida.
According to Bellissimo, the jumping and dressage events are rapidly outgrowing their venues and require significant improvements to support demand and to elevate quality standards. If not addressed, competitors with newer, larger venues will challenge Wellington’s stature as the premier destination. “Our equestrian venues and the events are at the core of our success,” he said.
Equestrian Village, the current home of dressage and specialty show jumping events, is not ideally located, creating operational conflicts and inefficiencies of moving thousands of people and hundreds of horses across Pierson Road and South Shore Blvd. daily throughout the winter, he explained. This dynamic creates high levels of unnecessary traffic conflicts and inconveniences to both participants and residents who traverse those two busy roadways.
Bellissimo added that there is a significant lack of integrated residential options. The vast majority of Wellington’s housing options were built before 2000, and Wellington is almost at full build-out. There is high demand and limited inventory for a broad range of golf-cart accessible residences, which would enhance event experiences, reduce traffic, and draw more participants and residents, he said.
In addition, there are limited commercial lifestyle options, including restaurants, hotels, co-shared office space and retail options that support the world-class nature of the events. “To compete with other venues and communities, we need to enhance our offerings as quickly as possible to present the finest experience for our participants and to provide a platform to engage all Wellington residents,” Bellissimo said.
While WEP has strategically sold more than 300 acres over the last year to equestrian-related entities Global Equestrian Group (GEG) and the United States Polo Association (USPA), it still owns more than 550 acres in Wellington.
“Our goal is to lay out a comprehensive vision for our equestrian properties based on market needs and feedback from many constituents,” Bellissimo commented. “The goal is to ensure that our venues are world-class and there is sufficient residential and commercial infrastructure to support a successful equestrian industry for the next 50 years and beyond.”
A master plan dubbed “Wellington 3.0” has been submitted by WEP in cooperation with the Global Equestrian Group to the Village of Wellington outlining a series of initiatives to ensure Wellington’s long-term success and competitiveness.
An agreement between WEP and GEG includes a proposed sale of 80 acres of land to GEG to support a showgrounds expansion, contingent on a zoning change for that land. GEG has already purchased part of the land identified for expanded dressage and jumping showgrounds from WEP-related entities.
The plan, drawn from years of operating experience, feedback from festival participants, spectators, residents and village/county leaders, as well as a 2021 survey from Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee, intends to accomplish the following:
• Protect, expand and enhance Wellington equestrian venues by ensuring that each equestrian venue is world-class and secure for generations to come through a transition from personal venue ownership to long-term institutional ownership. This application would effectively double the showgrounds’ footprint around the existing Wellington International showgrounds, expanding the footprint from 86 to 190 acres by converting 104 currently residentially zoned acres into land zoned Commercial Equestrian. Some recent initiatives of the “Wellington 3.0” strategy include the sale of Equestrian Sport Productions and the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (since renamed Wellington International) to GEG, and the recent sale of the International Polo Club to the United States Polo Association. These efforts transfer the core venues into the hands of well-funded “stewards” with long-term global visions to enhance the venues and expand the sport. GEG’s development plans include a single integrated showgrounds for dressage and show jumping, as well as a new stadium, covered arena, a large grass competition arena, permanent structures for stabling and retail, and increased parking.
• Develop high-quality residential options in proximity to the showgrounds. Despite economic challenges, interest in Wellington residences remains unabated. Demand is at an all-time high and inventory is at an all-time low. The plan incorporates existing residential density (199 units) within the Wellington Country Place PUD (172 acres of land abutting Wellington International). Secondly, it would convert 96 acres of commercial equestrian into pure residential at Equestrian Village, matching the conversion of residential into commercial abutting the showgrounds. There would be no commercial elements at Equestrian Village, as all commercial elements would be across South Shore Blvd., which is outside of the current Equestrian Overlay Zoning District (EOZD). A 5.3-acre parcel at the corner of Lake Worth and South Shore boulevards, currently in the EOZD, would be converted from full commercial to residential. A pedestrian/golf cart bridge crossing South Shore at Pierson would be accessible by all residents, and encourage the use of golf carts, bicycles and pedestrians to safely access a dedicated pedestrian walkway and golf cart path north of Pierson connecting the showgrounds entrance, thereby reducing traffic and increasing safety for participants and spectators alike.
• Integrate and connect the broader community through an “equestrian downtown” that will be accessible to all Wellington residents and event participants that includes restaurants, retail, office and hospitality. It will include cultural events, demonstration areas and support pedestrian traffic. All of this commercial activity will be located north of the existing Saddle Shops Plaza and west of South Shore on existing land zoned commercial and owned by WEP that is not located in the EOZD. This marketplace will be an economic cluster in support of attracting global equestrian businesses and participants who require hospitality, agile/shared office space, and world-class restaurants and retail.
“GEG is committed to the Village of Wellington and the equestrian community,” GEG CEO Andreas Helgstrand said. “The showgrounds expansion will require significant investment, which will ensure the finest equestrian facility and the highest-quality events in the world.”
Bellissimo stressed the importance of this new initiative.
“Wellington is one of the most unique equestrian destinations in the world,” he said. “As a full-time resident, my passion for this community is enduring. I am hopeful these 3.0 efforts will resonate with equestrians and non-equestrians alike as we work together to take the steps to make it a phenomenal year-round destination.”