April 1, 2016--The hugely successful Adequan Global Dressage Festival, the epicenter of the discipline in the U.S., eventually will be moving from the showgrounds where it has been located for five years and which it basically has outgrown.
During a jammed town hall-type meeting attended by several hundred people yesterday at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, the hunter/jumper facility a half-mile from AGDF, Mark Bellissimo outlined an exciting future for the components of horse sports in the community that has dubbed itself “The Winter Equestrian Capital of the World.”
Bellissimo is the dynamo who heads Wellington Equestrian Partners, which owns the showgrounds and will close this month on a deal to buy the nearby International Polo Club.
Although the session was called primarily to talk about the hunter/jumper Winter Equestrian Festival and issues concerning its home at PBIEC, the topic of dressage also came up during the session.
Bellissimo calmed concerns about rumors that dressage might be moving to White Fences, a community in rural Loxahatchee, about a 20-minute drive from Wellington. Until AGDF opened, most dressage competition was held in a large field in that area. It lacks the amenities of AGDF that include permanent stabling and a stadium, as well as the conveniences of more-developed Wellington, such as restaurants, shops and proximity to the homes belonging to riders, trainers and horse owners.
While Bellissimo declined to discuss the destination of the dressage show until plans are firmer a few months from now, in a conversation with Dressage Today last night he confirmed that the discipline eventually will be housed at the IPC, where it will co-exist with polo that is currently the focal point there.
With 248 acres available at IPC, Bellissimo thinks both sports can run comfortably at the facility, which also includes tennis courts, a swimming pool and a restaurant.
Construction of the AGDF was a game-changer for dressage in this country, attracting riders from all over the world for a 12-week series that includes 5-star-rated competition, Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ qualifiers and this week's Nations' Cup.
Allyn Mann, director of the Animal Health Division at Luitpold Pharmaceuticals that produces the Adequan joint supplement, signed the company on as the named sponsor of the Global Dressage Festival when the project was nothing more than a large pile of dirt on the site of the former Palm Beach Polo Club polo fields. His vision was rewarded, and while Mann noted he doesn't know all the details yet, he is confident that Bellissimo's next move for the discipline also will be a good one.
“I know that Mark and his team have been overwhelmed by the dressage community and what's happened here,” he said ringside during a competition at AGDF.
“I believe in his vision of what he's doing. If you look around the entire equestrian industry, there's nobody who's making investments that their group is. When you look at Tryon (North Carolina), they want to do doing the same in Colorado (at the Colorado Horse Park), they want to turn that into a destination. What they've done down here--maybe it's not the perfect place, but there's no other place like it in the world at this time of year. I'm on his bandwagon and I'm just enjoying the journey.”
As Mann pointed out, all this has happened despite municipally imposed restrictions on the operations of AGDF, which borders a residential area and has been the subject of lawsuits from the wealthy Jacobs family, whose property is on the same street as the dressage facility. There will be more freedom for operations at the IPC.
Voting last month that put in two new Wellington council members, replacing politicians whose election was backed by the Jacobs, is viewed by WEP as a game-changer that will enable it to proceed with construction plans for its properties.
“There's a great transition to a council that we believe has the best interests of the community at hand...where everyone can start operating more efficiently,” Bellissimo said, referring to other business interests as well as WEP.
The previous administration was obstructionist in terms of WEF, prompting Bellissimo to say two years ago that he would put a hold on any plans to expand or improve PBIEC or WEP's other property until the governing body changed.
“It's been very challenging for us to operate as a business in a very difficult political environment for us,” he pointed out.
“We were fighting and scrambling just to get the permits to operate the venue.”
The development of AGDF has made believers in the horse community. Olympic medalist Lisa Wilcox isn't fazed by the thought of moving from there to another local destination engineered by WEP.
WEP is seeking “constructive feedback” from anyone who has ideas about how to improve its facilities. A suggestion box at the town hall meeting already was filling up with notecards on various concerns as people were leaving the room. Bellissimo promised to personally read every email on the topic. Those who want to weigh in may write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The feedback, he said, “will be packaged into an operating plan to be released during the summer.”