I’ll admit when the Tryon International Equestrian Center announced last week that they had won their bid to host the World Equestrian Games in 2018, one minute I was pretty stoked the next, slightly terrified as to what this means to our equestrian community.
I may live in South Carolina, but the center is only 6 miles from my farm. When TIEC, as it is known locally, first went in we were all pretty excited as to what it would mean for the community at large. More jobs, higher property values, more revenue for small business’ which means more tax dollars for the community. The first show season saw many local retailers and food vendors invited to the site to offer services to exhibitors. However as time went on, and the facilities growth progressed many of those vendors got the boot. Local retailers, vendors and other service providers who had hired extra employees to handle the services they were providing at the shows found their contracts unexpectedly un-renewed for another year as had previously been promised.
That said, they have also brought growth to the local economy and have created seasonal jobs at the Center. They have also brought started a “Saturday Night Lights” program, offering admission and parking to TIEC on the nights when Grand Prix’s are held. Some nights when there is nothing going on at the show grounds it’s just a free movie like Shrek or National Velvet. Still free admission / parking the atmosphere is very family friendly with carousel rides, pony rides, face painting, a magician for the kids, balloon art and bubbles — all free – yes free. TIEC is very interested in having the community on their side, and wants to make horses accessible to every income level. Which is really nice to see a group like this making a push to show the average joe that this doesn’t have to be an ELITIST sport open only to the wealthy.
I was lucky enough to have time to attend a meeting last week hosted by Mark Bellissimo, one of the partners of TIEC on the intended economic development to the area with the game on the horizon. There were a few video clips followed by a brief presentation and then a Q & A session by the many local residents who managed to get there.
After watching how several business owners were treated by TIEC, I am a bit skeptical of their true intentions. The facility is developing a history of telling people one thing and then doing another where small business is concerned. Residents were given 2 days notice via Facebook and email of the time and date of the meeting. I found it curious that the meeting was held at 4 pm, the next county over from where TIEC resides. Yes, it is in close proximity to TIEC, but there are ample locations in Polk / Tryon who easily could have handled the #’s in attendance for the meeting. Perhaps the George Morris Arena at TIEC? Short notice and location aside, the meeting was very well attended. I believe Mr. Bellissimo may have been a bit surprised to see how many hands went up when, at one point, he polled the audience for Polk Co. Residents.
During the course of the Q and A session, the vendor situation was brought up, and it appears the facility is going to reconsider opening its doors to other outside vendors such as food trucks, mobile retailers and area service providers. The number of visitors WEG will generate is quite staggering! A total of 568,000 people attended the last World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France. Now that number includes competitors, grooms, coaches, team vet’s etc.
I attended the American Eventing Championships held their back in late August. I was told 750 horses were in attendance, guessing that there are about 2 people for every one horse, or 3 depending on parents / siblings etc at that sort of event. So guesstimating about 1500-2000 people where there for the weekend? The place was PACKED. I have never seen it so full. To try and envision 45-70,000 people per day? WOW, I don’t think that many people even live in Polk County! Trying to wrap my brain around what roads these people will use, what kind of traffic they will create, where they will park is incomprehensible to me. That’s not even taking into consideration the biggest problem, where will they all stay?
The Germans are sending a team over in 2 weeks on a reconnaissance mission, to scope out the area and secure 500 rooms. Yes, FIVE HUNDRED rooms, just for the German teams and affiliated personnel. Bellissimo also discussed the upcoming construction projects, a resort hotel with 200 rooms in later summer 2018, Tryon village with its collection of condos, town homes and retail shops also is slated to open summer of 2018. Bellissimo went on to say that this spring a hotel sporting 220 rooms will open. ( I think I’ve seen where the site work and grading for it has been done, but nothing is for sure, as they haven’t actually started building it yet. ) Construction over there goes up amazingly fast. When the Center first went in there were rumors that their were 3 shifts of construction workers and they were working 24 hours a day. Even now, the facility takes on a new appearance every time you drive by, so I have no doubt, if Mr. Belissimo says a hotel will open this spring, IT WILL open.
Bellissimo also discussed the infrastructure that will take place to accommodate all the traffic, and parking. There was talk about running shuttles from Charlotte, which is about 90 minutes, I am guessing the shuttles will mainly be for spectators. I am sure the riders / teams will need to be much closer to their horses. The facility already boasts a number of rentals that range from 3 bedroom log cabins, to smaller 1 bedroom ‘cabin-ettes’ as we call them locally. Additionally there are many privately owned rentals available from the grand, to budget friendly. I have no doubt there is already a plan in place to house all of these visitors, it is simply a matter of construction.
It was made very clear that they are not looking to receive any money from the state to facilitate the growth. It will all be privately funded with a rather large long term use plan. Although I am not sure who will foot the bill for expanding the airports to accommodate equine traffic and quarantine. At this point, the plan is to quarantine on site at TIEC – however that still leaves transport from the airport as a possible source of foreign disease. I’m sure all of the details for bio-security will be announced as they become available.
I left the meeting feeling confident that the finances are available to make all the plans of Tryon Equestrian Partners a reality in due course. It is simply a matter of rallying the construction teams and getting the permits cleared to get started. I have to admit as much as a large part of me is like: ” Squeeeeeee!! OMG OMG WEG IS GOING TO BE IN MY BACKYARD!!!!” a small part of me is worried about how it will impact the close knit equine community we have here. Only time will tell.