Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wellington, Florida - What Milton Georgia Could Have Become?

AM NOTE: Nothing worse than wasted potential...

In a Florida Town, Horses Upstage the Celebrities.

Home to billionaires with an equestrian bent, Wellington may be one of the few places in the world where it is possible to get a pickup game of polo.

In March, Liberty Media LMCA +0.17%billionaire John Malone and his wife, Leslie, spent $7.8 million on a Provençal-style manor in Wellington, Fla., a small village bordering the Everglades, 17 miles west of Palm Beach.

The 12,653-square-foot house has vaulted ceilings, a topiary knot garden and a prime spot near a golf course at the Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club. But best of all for the Malones, their new home is just a gallop away from the 123-acre horse farm they also bought in March—for another $12.5 million.

Where Billionaires Saddle Up

Zuma Press

"When you're talking about Wellington, the barn is the most important thing," says Matt Varney of Wellington Equestrian Realty, who represented the Malones in both sales. Mrs. Malone trains dressage horses and "they are both just absolute animal lovers," says Mr. Varney.
A home in Palm Beach Polo Golf and Country Club in Wellington, Fla.
Life in Wellington—particularly within the confines of the lush 9,200-acre district known as the Equestrian Preserve—revolves around horses. An estimated 9,000 reside there: Hanoverian dressage horses trained for intricate footwork, Selle Français show jumpers and fleets of polo ponies. Some 60 miles of bridle paths lace the district, where speed limits are set at 25 miles per hour and street-crossing buttons are positioned at rider height.

Celebrities and billionaires sit in the saddles. The Malones' neighbors in the Palm Beach Polo residential community include Charles Dolan, Cablevision CVC -0.67%founder and chairman, and Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who bought a home for $10.95 million in February, according to Palm Beach property records. Bruce Springsteen has a house nearby.
Michael Bloomberg: The New York mayor's daughter, Georgina, owns a 12-acre estate in Wellington's Mallet Hill neighborhood, according to a local broker.
Bill Gates: The Gates family spent this winter at a 4.8-acre Wellington estate.
Frank McCourt: The former L.A. Dodgers owner bought a home for $10.95 million in February.
John Malone: The Liberty Media billionaire and his wife, Leslie, bought a Wellington manor for $7.8 million.
Tommy Lee Jones: The actor has put his 50-acre ranch on the market for $26.75 million.
Jeremy Jacobs: The owner of the Boston Bruins owns the 200-acre Deeridge Farm estate in Wellington.
Bruce Springsteen: The rocker owns a home in the Equestrian Club Estates neighborhood; his daughter is a competitive rider.
imageGary Porter/ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Andrew Ziegler: His Artisan Farms estate is named for his money-management firm.

Polo ranches fill the southern end of the preserve, where actor Tommy Lee Jones just put San Saba, his 50-acre ranch—with full-size polo field and stalls for 48 horses—on the market for $26.75 million.
Wellington's hub is the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, a 140-acre show ground that draws elite riders from around the world for its 12-week Winter Equestrian Festival. The center's festival has grown in size and stature since property developer Mark Bellissimo acquired the grounds and 500 surrounding acres in 2006 through his Wellington Equestrian Partners.

"We invested close to $230 million," says Mr. Bellissimo, who saw Wellington's potential as "an equestrian-lifestyle destination" when his wife and daughters began competing there. He invested $30 million to upgrade the center and expanded the festival, now a fixture of the Olympic show-jumping circuit. Between mid-October and April, the horse show, combined with polo and dressage events, draws 10,000 seasonal visitors—practically double the preserve's permanent population. (The population of the entire village of Wellington was 57,163 in 2011.)

"It's always so much fun in the fall when people start coming back; it's like you're at camp," says best-selling romance and suspense novelist Tami Hoag, an avid dressage rider who lives in Wellington. "You see all these friends, and you're always going out to dinner. There's a big sense of community with horse people."
That sense of community has frayed recently. Dressage, a rarefied sport akin to horse ballet, was the unlikely trigger of Wellington's version of a bare-fisted turf war. In 2011, Mr. Bellissimo built a new $8 million new dressage facility on a separate site from the equestrian center, as part of a proposed 59-acre Equestrian Village that would include a hotel and retail space.

The new dressage arenas are about a mile down the road from Deeridge Farm, the 200-acre estate of Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, who has devoted considerable resources toward killing the complex. The Jacobs family directed hundreds of thousands of dollars into municipal elections, Mat Forrest, a family spokesman, confirmed. In May 2012, the village council voted down the hotel project. The future of the dressage complex itself is now in the courts, the subject of multiple lawsuits brought by members of the Jacobs family.

"The project as it stands today should never have been built, especially in a protected preserve," the family said in a written statement. The Jacobses see it as a Trojan horse that would open the preserve to commercial development.

Mr. Bellissimo describes the complex as essential to Wellington's place as "a winter equestrian capital." "The public posturing is about preservation," he says of his opponents. "Really, the only preservation being done is the preservation of their front driveway."

Despite the battle, demand for real estate in the preserve continues to grow, though prices remain below 2006 levels. Mr. Varney says his agency has sold $45.7 million in real estate since the start of the year, compared with $38 million for all of 2012. Many buyers are coming from overseas, including "a huge influx of people from South America in the polo world and dressage," says Carol Sollak of Engel & Völkers Luxury Real Estate.

House hunters might have trouble telling the mansions from the barns. Bucolic subdivisions are filled with horse farms that resemble Moroccan palaces and Mediterranean villas, with state-of-the-art equine amenities (cushioned floors, walk-in whirlpools) and lavish architectural details (oak-paneled stalls, chandeliers).
Local farm owners include Andrew and Carlene Ziegler of Artisan Farms, named after their money-management firm. Lorillard CEO Murray Kessler—whose 18-year-old daughter, Reed, was the youngest rider to compete in the Olympics—owns Kessler Show Stables; hedge-fund billionaire James Dinan's Staysail Farm is just a short trot down the lane.

These farms are prized for their proximity to the equestrian center. If your Belgian Warmblood can hack—horse-speak for walk—to the ring on a show day, you don't have to bother loading him in a van or renting him a stall at the show grounds.

"You can measure [property] value in steps to the ring of the Grand Prix field," says Martha W. Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties. In 2006, she says, she sold a 12-acre estate with a barn in the coveted Mallet Hill neighborhood—a short hack to the show grounds—to Georgina Bloomberg, a competitive show jumper and daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Ms. Bloomberg is but one of many heiresses to hang her riding hat in Wellington. Jessica Springsteen, whose father, Bruce, owns a home near the show grounds in the Equestrian Club Estates neighborhood, competes in the Winter Festival. So does Jennifer Gates, the 17-year-old daughter of Microsoft's MSFT +1.61%Bill Gates. The Gates family and their horses spent the past winter at a 4.8-acre estate with a 20-stall barn in Mallet Hill, according to local agents. The property, which Mr. Gates reportedly rented for $500,000 for the season, just sold for $8.7 million.

"Wealthy people like horses," says Mr. Varney. "Wealthy people's kids like riding horses. It's a relatively small world."

Corrections & Amplifications
The name of the real-estate agency Engel & Völkers was misspelled as Engel & Völckers in an earlier version of this article. 



Dave Haupert said...

As someone who moved his family from the equestrian preserve in Wellington FL to Milton, GA 5 years ago, I can assure you Milton is better off than Wellington, FL. Sure, the horses live like millionaires, and millions upon millions of dollars are spent on barns and grounds for horses, but there is little sense of community or family there. The same sort of fighting between equestrian people and regular communities happens at town meetings, but making a much bigger spectacle of it all.

The million dollar barns come at the expense of homes- in our neighborhood, many lots were sold and commercial barns built without ever building a residence. They would live in the country club where lots were right on top of each other, and keep their barn out near the equestrian village. It was against the HOA rules, but the amount of money these people had meant that they'd rather fight it than live there. The legal fees the HOA spent each year dwarfed any other bill they carried.

Lastly, Milton could never become a Wellington FL because it is missing the key ingredient - warm winters. The reason why Wellington became a mecca for horses is that it's lush and gorgeous in the winter and most of the homeowners mentioned in the article and living throughout the equestrain preserve were seasonal with farms in the northern states they went to during the spring-fall months.

Remember to be careful what you wish for!

Anonymous said...

Tim, remember your truck can drive south just as easy as North!

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. Another hateful remark from the same hateful person.
Move on dearie, move on.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the article. With all the ground in Milton being razed for subdivisions, it seems we're well on the way to becoming "Alpharetta Lite."

Rocket Man said...

We're all trying to make sense of it. And it will continue to defy our attempts.

Matthew 13
[9] Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Revelation 13
[9] If any man have an ear, let him hear.


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