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Ahead of the WEG 2018: “The whole venue was built in 16 months"

Wednesday, 10 January 2018
Ahead of the WEG 2018

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
The 'Thank you'-plaque is Mark Bellissimo's favorite: “It is the best thing in the whole venue! It was such a great spirit of motivation and I think people were really enthusiastic about it and excited to be part of it."

The FEI World Equestrian Games™2018 were planned to be hosted by Bromont in Canada. However, at the end of July 2016, the FEI announced that Bromont was no longer an option due to financial issues and re-opened the bidding process. Already in August the same year – only one year after the first competition on the show ground – Tryon International Equestrian Center was working together with the United States Equestrian Federation on a bid to host the 2018 Games in North Carolina. And, at the end of 2016 it was final: In September 2018 Tryon will welcome thousands of athletes to compete for the World Championships medals.

In a series of articles, World of Showjumping focuses on the upcoming FEI World Equestrian Games™. 


Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Here can you see the arena, and some of all the land that is being prepared for the hotels to be built.

“The whole venue was built in 16 months, and before we started it was only rolling hills here,” Mark Bellissimo – managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Partners – explains. “We started in 2014 and finished in July 2015. We moved 3 million cubic of land, so it was quite a big project.”

“I sketched out this whole venue on one piece of paper. I sat up on the hill and drew all the buildings and venues. Some smaller changes have been made, and my daughter has saved and dated them all,” Bellissimo smiles.

“We wanted it to be a multi-discipline venue build for the equestrian sport to be used year around. To be a destination for people who love horses. Not just jumping, eventing and dressage, we also wanted to involve driving, polo, eventing and all other sorts of horse sports. A destination for people who want to know more about all the disciplines and not just a competition venue, but also a place for people who love horses. And when we started we had no idea we would be hosting the FEI World Equestrian Games™ four years later,” Mark laughs.  

Early on in the building process, Mark was told that it would be a five-year project and that it was a very small chance that the workers in the area would be up for it. “I was told it was no way the people in this community would be able to build what I wanted in the time I wanted. They said the people here would spend the winters hunting and fishing. So, I rented a tent and invited all of these companies and their employees for a barbeque and explained to them about the importance of this project for the community and what I wanted to build. I also explained to them that other people told me that they were not able to do it. But they really were!” Mark smiles.

On the opening day of Tryon International Equestrian Center, the owners surprised all the workers with a ‘Thank You’-plaque with all their names inscribed. “It is the best thing in the whole venue! It was such a great spirit of motivation and I think people were really enthusiastic about it and excited to be part of it. Of course there was a moment of stress before opening, but they were all amazing. It was collaboration in the community, and most of them support the venue each week. So, it was 140 people involved, and if you swept a broom or made concrete – your name is on that sign.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
The grass arena will be rebuild to the main arena for jumping and dressage.

North Carolina was previously depending on the textile industry, and when the factories closed the unemployment rate went up to 18%. “Today the unemployment is around 8-9%, so even if we haven’t employed all of them the venue plays a big role. Restaurants and hotels in the region are employing and it has been an economic rebirth for this community,” Mark explains about the impact of Tryon International Equestrian Center.

Getting a permission to build is usually difficult, but in the case of Tryon International Equestrian Center it was different. “It was very easy to get the building permission to in an area like this. When we started we got 20 years development permission. We still need to get building permission for every project, but this community has been unbelievable to work with. Sometimes it can take years to get a permission, but this is a unique set of people and the state of North Carolina has been fantastic,” Mark tells.

It has been a huge and very expensive project, and it will cost even more before it is finished. “We have spent about 180 million dollars to date, and we will probably spend another 180-200 million dollars over the next 18 months. We will not take any money out of this place for a long time….” Mark says.

To be able to build the hotels and apartments that they wish to have ready ahead of the Games, the organizers have gone to great lengths: A factory has been bought and around 40 robots have been installed there. “This way we can build the whole hotel in the factory – room by room – and then we drive them to the setting and put them together. That is how we are able to build everything so fast.” But the factory isn’t all there has been invested in: A transportable cement factory is also on stage to make it all as effective as possible.  “In that way, we don’t have to wait around,” Mark says.

There are already 1200 stalls on the venue, but another 400 will be built and the indoor will be made bigger to be able to host the reining and vaulting. “All the horses will stay in permanent stables and all the grooms will be in permanent buildings. We are right now building 260 units with air condition and they will be placed on the venue so that the grooms are close to where they need to be,” Mark tells.

“We are just adding now. The sport is pretty much done, so the only thing that we are really building now is lodgings and restaurants – as well as the press and VIP hospitality,” Mark explains and in the next second he shows us where the huge family pool and sport centre will be. “We will build at least two hotels ahead of the Games, but are hoping to build five. It will be different types of lodgings so that it will fit all wallets. To be safe we have booked 3000 hotel rooms at the closest hotels and depending on how much we can build, we will start to release the booked rooms.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
The main entrance to Tryon International Equestrian Center.

Rolex is the official partner at Tryon International Equestrian Center, and seeing that FEI’s title sponsor is Longines many thought it would become such a big issue that it would stop the Games from taking place at the venue. “We have a ten-year sponsorship with Rolex, so we met with them and they are giving up their sponsorship for twelve days and will be back again after the Games. I think that is a really great gesture,” Mark says.

Mark, who is one of the driving forces behind the Tryon International Equestrian Center and the hosting of the Games, also owns big venues in Wellington and in Colorado. He has a background in several fields of business: “In 2004 my wife, children and I moved down to Florida and bought the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. It has been a little bit of a family affair as my wife is very active in the business, and runs the media operation. And two of our children work with us. We have about 1000 employers across the business today and I think we make quite a foot print in the US regarding the venues we are working with – Wellington, Colorado and Tryon.”

On the question if Mark thinks it will be hard to stay motivated after the FEI World Equestrian Games™, he laughs and answers: “No, because at that time we will sleep. We believe that this is just the beginning of something really big! We want it to be an experience to come here.”

Tryon International Equestrian Center is located in North Carolina, offering beautiful nature and plenty of things to do for everyone. 

In our series 'Ahead of the WEG 2018', World of Showjumping will give our readers a preview and a look behind the scenes on the upcoming FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Tryon.

You can read the previous article here: 

Ahead of the WEG 2018: From nothing to organising the FEI World Equestrian Games™


Text and pictures © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson

No reproduction without permission

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