Bellissimo talks Wellington's equestrian future

Bellissimo talks Wellington's equestrian future

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The man in charge of one of Palm Beach County's most important industries is going back to the drawing board with Wellington's leaders.

Wellington's major equestrian property owner, Mark Bellissimo, has recently won the contest to host the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2018.

But it's not going to be in Wellington.

Instead, it's three states away at another one of his properties in North Carolina, Tryon Equestrian Center.

Bellissimo, CEO of Equestrian Sports Partners, opened up about the future of Wellington's equestrian industry on Wednesday during a Wellington Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Wanderers Club on Wednesday.

"I think I think Wellington is very well-positioned," he said. "Wellington has a lot of features that make it very very attractive. In the winter, I think we can expand that.

Bellissimo said it's been a tricky couple of years. He's been at the center of the fight between people who want to protect the Wellington preserve and those who want to expand. He says on-site hotels helped his property in North Carolina win the world games. That was something he fought for in Wellington.

Bellissimo adds that without change, Wellington cannot reach it's full potential.

"What is preservation? To me preservation is making the venue attractive to customers," he said.

This year, voters passed a charter referendum banning hotels from the preserve entirely.
"In many ways it's going to make it very difficult for Wellington to sort of change and expand, there may be some opportunities to come up with creative ideas but at this point it's going to be very challenging," said Bellissimo.

But he says it doesn't mean Wellington's future is in doubt. They just have to go back to the drawing board.

And although a hotel is out of the equation for now, there is a new council that mayor Anne Gerwig is hopeful can work with Bellissimo to move forward.
"He is a visionary. And it is not without conflict. But I think as a community we've worked through most of that and we're going to try to work together," she said.

Lodging could still be a possibility for the area, but those are conversations that will take time, according to Mayor Gerwig.

"That doesn't mean we wouldn't have land-use changes. Areas could come out of the preserve which also a very difficult thing to manage," said Gerwig.
Wellington's equestrian industry has had three straight years of growth with another record breaking year anticipated this winter season.

"Last year, we had riders from more countries. 50 states and 43 countries," said Bellissimo.
Bellissimo now owns three world class equestrian competitions including Dressage and the most recently purchased International Polo Club. This is the first season for all three to operate together.
"We're going to really try to figure out how to make all three of those properties intersect in a way that allows it to grow in a very unique way," said Bellissimo.
Gerwig said there's also a new council willing to move the local equestrian industry forward.
"They're excited, they're energetic, they're engaged in the community," she said. "We're never going to be Tryon, we all know that. I make jokes about the competition there but it's not a competition. We're two completely different communities. What I can get from Wellington is what I'm about."

Bellissimo is proposing that his organization meet with community leaders to move forward.

"This shouldn't be about my interest or someone else's interest, it should be about what's in the best interest of the community and I'm hopeful that that group will put together a game plan presented to the council and put together a strategy for Wellington to position itself," he said.

The Wellington equestrian season begins in January and runs into April.

Scripps Only Content 2016