I just returned from a short, whirlwind magical 24 hours in Wellington Florida, where I had the honor of being one of the guest lecturers at the Emerging Dressage Athletes program. From happy greeting we got at the security gate, signs of growth and prosperity surrounded us. The energy at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center was welcoming and inspiring. With a dedicated new location for the Global Dressage Festival rapidly under construction, the team headed up by Mark Bellissimo, Managing Partner, Wellington Equestrian Partners created an area at the PBIEC dedicated to dressage to host the EDAP program held Dec 26-31, and early show dates if needed while construction is completed. Issues related to the GDF developments underway have raised questions and challenges spearheaded by the Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance (WEPA). Bellisimo has addressed the vision and the position he and the Wellington Equestrian Partners have not only always shared, but have demonstrated since acquiring the Winter Equestrian Festival show grounds in 2006. This is an important article, and even for those not involved in the Wellington Area, we have something to learn from watching and listening to people at work dedicated to progress.
By Mark Bellissimo - Mark Bellissimo, Managing Partner, Wellington Equestrian Partners
Life is about perspective, overcoming adversity, learning through experience, challenging convention and making a difference by pursuing your dreams and goals — whether those goals are social, spiritual, financial, personal, or a combination of all four. What makes America great is the ”can do” attitude that is pervasive in society. It is a place where there are opportunities for all regardless of birthright, resources or current standing. The underdog is respected and honored. It is a place where the spirit of entrepreneurship has created many great people, places, companies and industries. It takes hard work and courage to pursue your dreams because life is full of critics who want nothing more than to maintain the status quo. Many times the status quo is “preserved” by those who are quite happy with what they have, are indifferent to those who want something different, or who just fear change. America is also a place where people have the right to disagree. Often there is no right or wrong answer, only better or worse answers. However, more often than not, doing nothing is the worst answer.
The Wellington Equestrian Preservation Alliance (WEPA) recently sent out a mass mailing to an estimated 18,000 Wellington homes describing our newly proposed “Equestrian Village” project. I believe it was an extremely disturbing, divisive, misguided and dishonest mailing.
Six-time Olympian Robert Dover issued a passionate response that included the following statement, “The [WEPA] newsletter was full of angry terms that incite — terms like 'scheming,' 'speculation,' 'declining home values,' 'crime,' 'uncertainty,' 'anxiety,' 'insecurity,' 'increased danger to horses,' 'noise,' 'traffic congestion,' 'lack of green space,' the list goes on. Then I read about the high- rise condominiums, a mall, a fairgrounds and an RV park. It was a negative, intentionally inaccurate, full of exaggeration, fear-mongering campaign only meant to once again scare and disrupt this community that I call home and love.” (To see Robert's full response, go to www.doversworld.com and click on the Dec. 8 blog. To see WEPA’s newsletter, go to www.wellingtonalliance.com.)
Robert also mentions in his blog that WEPA's current objections are akin to the campaign waged by Lou Jacobs and Mason Phelps in 2006: “I watched in horror five years ago as the same players ... and the Old Guard brutalized Mark Bellissimo, his family and the motives of Wellington Equestrian Partners in blogs and in the local and national equestrian media. In their eyes, he would destroy the event, the facility, the fabric of the community, our equestrian way of life. Through eerily similar scare tactics and attacks, they declared that it was the ‘beginning of the end’ of Wellington.”
Despite the barrage of negative press, ugly tactics and the smear campaign, Robert was correct: My partners, Roger Smith and Dennis Dammerman, and I chose not to defend ourselves in 2006. The issue was not about us but about the future of Wellington. In our opinion, we were not yet directly relevant to the community, so to the outside world it was just about a bunch of “rich people fighting with each other, so who cares.”
At the time, my oldest child, Matt, then 16,was concerned and inquired why I was not defending myself against the false accusations. I said to him and my three other children that you never let people bully you into a fight. I conveyed that we were going to take the high road and that they should always remember, a great plan, a positive message, passion, conviction, the right resources and a strong team will always prevail over indifference, negativity, lawyers, lobbyists, political connections and all the money in the world. What is important is not what you say or how you react, but what you do that counts. The lasting and most important memory is the outcome and the destination, not the process and the journey.
Our expanded partnership, the Wellington Equestrian Partners, then laid out an ambitious plan and vision to transform Wellington from a temporary, seven- week hunter-jumper horse show and private polo club community targeted at the wealthy into a permanent, full, multidisciplinary equestrian industry that benefits the entire community for the entire year. The unifying theme was the love of the horse. It is a vision intended to be inclusive, not exclusive, for equestrians and village residents alike and be accessible to anyone regardless of his or her financial resources or status.
After a five-year, $30 million turnaround, we prevented the Winter Equestrian Festival from moving from its current location. The newly renovated Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is now a permanent venue and regarded as one of the finest facilities in the world. There is record rider attendance from all over the world. The season is longer and has a greater impact on local businesses and Palm Beach County. A record number of Wellington residents now feel welcome to attend the events. Our organization is responsible for distributing millions of dollars to more than 50 local charities. We have launched a public school initiative that will begin to make the equestrian community relevant and accessible to the children in our community. We are creating a community jobs program that will provide education, access and training for residents who are out of work and want to pursue the hundreds (if not thousands) of jobs available within the community. All of this occurred during the most challenging financial climate in our lifetimes.
I am proud of our accomplishments. My family and I are thrilled to call Wellington our home. While it would be easy to stop and take a deep breath, we believe the Equestrian Village project is the single most important economic engine to enhance Wellington’s equestrian economy and position it to have a greater impact across the community while still maintaining Wellington’s unique character. The most significant benefit is the ability to create jobs from critical short-term construction jobs to long-term, full-time jobs in all areas of the industry (horse shows, hospitality, lodging, administration, equestrian support and specialty retail). It will elevate the real-estate market, which enhances the tax base that supports community services; reduce the seasonality, which strengthens and supports local businesses; create a common gathering spot to engage, educate and entertain the community; and position Wellington to attract more world-class equestrian events such as the 2018 World Equestrian Games,
thus firmly establishing Wellington as the No. 1 equestrian destination in the world.
Once again, we stand at a crossroad: WEPA states that our project would create uncertainty, anxiety and insecurity. Its members want you to imagine a project with crime, traffic, high-rises, shopping malls, RVs, noise, declining home values and increased danger to horses. Instead, let's challenge them once again.
Let's all imagine a project that drives a robust economic industry for Wellington and the county. Let's imagine a place with children and families playing, seniors relaxing and local residents and riders from around the world competing in diverse and accessible events. Let's imagine hundreds of industry professionals and businesses coming to Wellington for trade shows, industry conferences and new events. Let's imagine many of those businesses returning or moving their businesses here — creating more jobs. Let's imagine an industry that provides hundreds of jobs in a world where people are struggling to find jobs, pay their mortgages to keep their homes, feed their families, educate their children and maintain a decent quality of life.
Let's imagine a world where a couple of large estate owners with their lobbyists and lawyers do not dictate policy to protect their mega-compounds and access roads at the expense of the community. If you have a job, a great estate and tremendous wealth, the status quo is great. When you are a high school senior without a job, or a father who has been laid off and cannot support his family, the status quo is not such a nice place. WEPA was wrong in 2006, and they are even more wrong in 2011.
In my heart, I believe we can and will reshape this community into the most unique place in the world that benefits a much broader group of people. Unfortunately, that requires change, and change is extremely hard for most people, especially those people who are vested in what they know, feel and touch. Add a level of uncertainty in the outcome of that change, and it creates fear. That fear then evolves into resistance and criticism of the unknown and then criticism of the individuals who are pursuing the change. This is true for most exploration and invention in history.
The fact is, visions do not come with majority support, and the execution of the vision is filled with setbacks in the form of mistakes, failures and shortcomings that provide fodder for the critics. In response to these setbacks and critics, you can either quit, adapt or get stronger, smarter and overcome. If the critics prevail, the status quo prevails, and the corresponding change and opportunities die. You will never know what could have been. Your willingness to persevere directly correlates to your fundamental belief in the outcome, your resources and your team.
This is the message I have ingrained in my children, because the ultimate fact is, critics do not write great novels, produce great movies, build great buildings, invent cures, lead companies, build products or change society. They criticize. Criticism is important to improve a process, but it should not be the lasting legacy.
Answers To Your Questions About The Equestrian Village Project
By Mark Bellissimo, Managing Partner, Wellington Equestrian Partners