The cadence of the upcoming Wellington equestrian season is quickening but the limited available housing tends to slow down one leg of the annual tradition. If you have attended the town’s Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), which runs from January 5th to April 3rd—the longest-running equestrian event in the world—you already know that short-term rentals and lodging are slim and at a premium.
Land Use in Wellington Changes Game
Why is there a four-month housing shortage? Because a good portion of Wellington, once a patchwork of farmland about 15 miles inland of the Atlantic Coast, is now the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC), host of the annual WEF, the world’s largest equestrian competition with a $9 million-plus prize payout. That equates into a turnout of more than 7,000 horses worth more than half a billion dollars, 2,800 riders, and 250,000 visitors from more than 49 states and 30 countries that descend onto the 31 square miles and limited lodging of Wellington for 12 weeks.
The PBIEC, a beautifully developed equine destination, encompasses a total of 500 acres of which 80 are devoted to 18 competition rings including one derby field and the largest covered arena in the world. The International Arena is 357‘x256‘ and is surrounded by VIP box seating, general admission seating, and hospitality pavilions. The main grounds house more than 250 permanent equine stalls, horse trails, pedestrian paths, golf cart tracks, and dedicated shopping areas. The competition includes hunter/jumper, polo, and dressage events. The 2022 festival, post-COVID restrictions, is expecting full attendance.
Luxury Recreation Spurred Commercial Enterprise
An elite equestrian community was initially lured to WEF in the 1970s because Wellington, with its warmer weather and safer, softer soil, provided a more desirable destination option to the sport’s historically popular New York centers. It began as a five-week competition and gained momentum by continuing to attract the attention of wealthier investors, participants and spectators and peaked with the grand opening of the International Polo Club Palm Beach in 2002. Today, there are at least five billionaire families that support and participate in the WEF culture including the daughters of Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Magnum P.I. star Tom Sellek. Jennifer Gates, Georgina Bloomberg and Hannah Sellek are all award-winning equestrians.
Because local restrictions limited hotel development in Wellington it became necessary for WEF participants to own or rent real estate. Gates, in fact, owns a whole street worth of homes in the area. Many regulars who winter in Florida during WEF have invested in two homes—one in the Polo Club and one on the Town of Palm Beach island—to enjoy the best of both worlds, in the arena and on the ocean.
New Multi-use Development Project
One commercial real estate developer’s solution to help augment housing and parking availabilities during the four-month season is a mixed use project that is planned to be built on land just west of the Florida Turnpike near Wellington on what used to be polo fields. Tentatively called Lake Worth Crossing, the project is expected to include a hotel, medical offices, and more on approximately 9 acres at Lake Worth Road and Hooks Road.
The project’s first small-scale land use hearing has been requested by KS Lake Worth LLC. The Palm Beach County Commission scheduled the hearing for February 2022 (two votes are needed to pass), so it won’t be available for lodging for this year’s WEF but could add rooms, storage and parking for future events. Here’s what the preliminary site plan for Lake Worth Crossing includes:
- A total of 196,970 square feet for the project
- A 127-room, three-story hotel that totals 53,690 square feet
- A three-story, 107,030-square-foot self-storage
- Three stories of medical offices
- 348 parking spaces
The site plan application also included this statement from the developer, “The proposed uses will better serve the surrounding community as it will provide for additional services and employment opportunities.”
For those who choose to rent in Wellington during WEF, here’s a quick cheat sheet of what to expect:
- No negotiating: With low inventory and high demand, landlord’s will not be negotiating. Expect to pay full price, put down the first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit.
- Timing is everything. It is reported that about 95 percent of homes and condos available are rented immediately. Find a property listing for rent for 30 to 60 days before it’s available.
- Proof of income and credit check. While it varies, most landlords and HOA’s require a tenant’s income to be three times the monthly rent, and a high fico score. Make sure you know your credit score before you apply.
For those who choose to buy in Wellington, here are a few suggestions for your home or condo search:
- Bedford Mews: A non-gated community of single-family homes and townhomes that are only a golf cart ride away from the PBIEC
- Equestrian Club: A high-end, sought-out neighborhood of estate homes
- Andrews at the Polo Club: A renowned Wellington gated-community laid out with condos and townhomes
- Wellington Place: Luxury villas and townhomes within a few minutes’ drive to the PBIEC
At Rabideau Klein, Guy Rabideau, Esq. and David E. Klein, Esq. are dedicated, Florida Bar Board-Certified Real Estate Attorneys with the local expertise and experience you need to ensure that your interests are protected during your real estate transaction in Palm Beach County and throughout the State of Florida. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss your real estate legal needs.