WELLINGTON, Fla. — Palm Beach Polo Inc. has sold its 18-hole Cypress golf course to a company owned by entrepreneur Mark Bellissimo for $35 million, the latest move in its bid to build support for a massive project on Wellington’s horse reserve.
The course at Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club will become part of The Wellington, Bellissimo’s plan to build two luxury residential communities and a high-end retail district on largely reserve land with the help of a company backed by the star golfer Tiger Woods and star singer Justin Timberlake.
Palm Beach Polo sits next to the land Bellissimo has acquired for the project near equestrian fields. The deal not only gives Bellissimo a golf course for The Wellington, but will also help Palm Beach Polo pay $6.8 million in unpaid fines to the village.
The 125 acres encompassing the golf course were among the Palm Beach Polo lots that Wellington was willing to foreclose on. On Wednesday, a judge canceled a planned June 12 auction of the properties, saying Palm Beach Polo had put the money into bond while it appealed the case.
Before the Bellissimo development can get residents to play the golf course, however, three village councils – crowned by the village council – must decide that its plans for it are compatible with strict rules governing development in the Equestrian Reserve, a 9,000 zone acres south end of Wellington.
It’s unclear if and when those decisions will happen. Neither board has scheduled a meeting for the project, which Bellissimo unveiled last fall. His construction company has not submitted any plans for the shopping district, which would include a hotel, shops and restaurants.
What’s at stake for Wellington and its horse reserve?
The Wellington marks Bellissimo’s third attempt since 2012 to build on the 9,000-acre horse reserve, where he hosts the annual winter horse festival and has interests in other properties.
Community opposition helped scuttle his plans in 2012 for a hotel and dressage area and in 2016 for a hotel and improvements to the International Polo Club, which he subsequently sold. Instead, he developed a horse base in North Carolina.
Bellissimo said Wellington risks losing the equestrian events and businesses that have helped define it as horse-friendly places like Ocala and Myakka City if it doesn’t approve The Wellington. At the heart of his proposal is doubling the area of the horse show grounds and providing luxury housing and amenities for riders.
Still, some question whether approval of his plans will set a precedent for development on the reservation, whose rules ban hotels, motels, condominiums and apartments and limit commercial construction and the density of new housing.
After his experience in 2016, village voters approved a number of approvals needed for any significant development on the reservation. The plans must win the support of the equestrian commission, the planning and zoning board and the village board. Wellington’s planning staff said its plans were compatible with the intent of the reserve.
Bellissimo’s plans for luxury homes also come at a time when home prices have risen sharply in Palm Beach County’s western communities, with new homes in short supply and many people who work or grew up in the area priced out. Bellissimo said his plans would not include workforce housing.
Tiger, Timberlake part of the owners of a design company
Revised plans submitted this month show The Wellington will be split into three parts:
- South Wellington, with 143 estates and five 4-acre farms.
- Wellington North, with 272 co-ops and 28 homes.
- Wellington Market, the town center with the hotel, retailers and restaurants.
The Bellissimo team said this week it is partnering with Nexus Luxury Collection to design the residential neighborhoods, downtown and community center if the village approves their construction. Nexus investors include Timberlake, Woods and fellow pro Ernie Els. British investor Joe Lewis of the Tavistock Group is also backing the company.
Nexus and Bellissimo created a company, Wellington Lifestyle Partners, to oversee the design, development and management of the 600 acres included in The Wellington if the village approves the project. They hope to “take inspiration” from Nexus’ Albany in the upscale Bahamas community near Nassau.
The golf course will undergo major renovations over the next few months, said Douglas McMahon, managing partner of WLP. It’s now open to Palm Beach Polo residents, who say it’s poorly maintained, with overgrown grass, bare-knuckle pits and sand traps that turn to mud.
McMahon said Woods, who has a home on Jupiter Island, is aware of the project, but it has not been determined who will redesign the course and clubhouse. McMahon noted that the course will remain open for now and that a new membership program will be created.
Other planned entertainment amenities at The Wellington include:
- Golf practice areas
- 16-acre park and lake with trails, gardens and event spaces
- Stadium tennis court and 12 additional tennis courts, 10 paddle courts and
- Twelve pickle pitches
- Four pools, including one for families and one exclusively for adults
- Two-story field house with an indoor basketball court
- Five sports simulators
- Fitness and wellness center with an area of 40,000 square meters
- Children’s facilities which include a games room, rock climbing wall and bowling alleys
Bellissimo’s team says the plan will avoid partial development
McMahon says WLP updated the designs to ensure they fit the community and build a case for more residential and commercial development near the fairgrounds.
He said he hoped to “build support and get everyone excited about this club community, which we think represents good growth for Wellington.”
Paige Bellissimo, Mark Bellissimo’s daughter and WLP’s vice president of development, said reinvesting in equestrian sports and the equestrian area is critical for Wellington to remain competitive against stand-alone venues like the Ocala Equestrian Center.
“There’s a real opportunity here to create something really special with a holistic view of the 600 acres we own,” she said. “And plan it in a way that’s more meaningful and long-lasting than the alternative of a piecemeal developer who could maximize individual parcels.”
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