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 his attempt to build support for a sweeping project in Wellington’s equestrian preserve.
The course at Palm Beach Polo Golf & Country Club would become part of The Wellington, Bellissimo’s plan to build two luxury residential communities and a high-end commercial district on land largely in the preserve, with the help of a company backed by star golfer Tiger Woods and star singer Justin Timberlake.
Palm Beach Polo sits next to the land Bellissimo has amassed for the project near equestrian showgrounds. The deal not only gives Bellissimo a golf course for The Wellington, but it also stands to 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 parcels on which Wellington was poised to foreclose. A judge Wednesday called off a planned June 12 auction of the properties, saying Palm Beach Polo had posted the money in a bond while it appeals the case.
Before Bellissimo’s development can have residents play the golf course, however, three village boards — crowned by the village council — must decide his plans for it are compatible with the stringent rules governing development in the equestrian preserve, a 9,000-acre zone at the south end of Wellington.
It’s unclear whether or when those decisions will happen. None of the boards has scheduled a meeting about the project, which Bellissimo unveiled last fall. His development company has not filed any plans for the commercial district, which would include a hotel, shops and restaurants.
What’s at stake for Wellington and its equestrian preserve?
The Wellington marks Bellissimo’s third attempt since 2012 to build in the 9,000-acre equestrian preserve, where he stages the annual Winter Equestrian Festival and has interests in other properties.
Community opposition helped to scuttle his plans in 2012 for a hotel and a dressage area and in 2016 for a hotel and improvements to the International Polo Club, which he has since sold. Instead, he developed an equestrian center in North Carolina.
Bellissimo has said Wellington risks losing the equestrian competitions and businesses that have helped to define it to horse-friendly places such as Ocala and Myakka City if it balks at approving The Wellington. At the core of his proposal is doubling the size of the horse showgrounds and providing luxury housing and amenities for equestrians.
Yet some have questioned whether approving his plans would set a precedent for development in the preserve, whose rules forbid hotels, motels, condominiums and apartments and limit the construction of commercial buildings and the density of new housing.
After his 2016 attempt, village voters approved a line of approvals required for any significant development in the preserve. The plans must win the support of the equestrian committee, the planning and zoning board as well as the village council. Wellington’s planning staff has said his plans are compatible with the intent of the preserve.
Bellissimo’s plans for luxury homes also come at a time when housing prices have risen significantly across Palm Beach County’s western communities, with new residences in short supply and many people who work or grew up in the area priced out. Bellissimo has said his plans will not feature workforce housing.
Tiger, Timberlake part owners of design company
Revised plans filed this month show that The Wellington would be divided into three parts:
Wellington South, with 143 estates and five 4-acre farms.
Wellington North, with 272 condominiums and 28 homes.
Wellington Market, the town center with the hotel, retailers and restaurants.
Bellissimo’s team said this week it partnered with the Nexus Luxury Collection to design the residential neighborhoods, the town center and a community club if the village approves their construction. Nexus investors include Timberlake, Woods and fellow pro golfer Ernie Els. British investor Joe Lewis of Tavistock Group also is backing the company.
Nexus and Bellissimo have created a company, Wellington Lifestyle Partners, to oversee the design, development and management of the 600 acres involved in The Wellington if the village approves the project. They hope to “take inspiration” from Nexus’ Albany in The Bahamas luxury community near Nassau.
The golf course will be overhauled in the next few months, said Douglas McMahon, WLP’s managing partner. It’s now open to Palm Beach Polo residents who say it’s poorly maintained, with overgrown grass, tee boxes with bare sports and sand traps that turn into mud.
McMahon said Woods, who has a home in Jupiter Island, is aware of the project but it has not been determined who will redesign the course and clubhouse area. McMahon noted the course will remain open for now, and that a new membership program will be set up.
Other planned recreational amenities within The Wellington include:
Golf practice areas
A 16-acre park and lake with trails, gardens and event spaces
A stadium tennis court and 12 additional tennis courts, 10 paddle courts and
Twelve pickleball courts
Four pools, including one for families and one exclusively for adults
A two-story field house featuring an indoor basketball court
Five sport simulators
A 40,000-square feet fitness and wellness center
Children’s facilities that include a gaming room, a rock-climbing wall and bowling alleys
Bellissimo’s team says plan will avoid piecemeal development
McMahon says WLP updated the projects to ensure they match the community and build a case for more housing and commercial development near the showgrounds.
He said he hopes to “build the support and get everyone excited about this club community that 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 crucial for Wellington to stay competitive against self-contained venues like the Ocala Equestrian Center.
“There is 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 is more meaningful and lasting versus the alternative of a piecemeal developer who could maximize individual parcels.”