Plans for international equestrian center in Polk announced

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tryon Resort and equestrian center announced its plan during a ground breaking ceremony on Wednesday, June 25 in front of a few hundred spectators. The event included tours of the facility.  Story below. (photos by Leah Justice)

Tryon Resort and equestrian center announced its plan during a ground breaking ceremony on Wednesday, June 25 in front of a few hundred spectators. The event included tours of the facility. Story below. (photos by Leah Justice)

Construction has been ongoing for months, but Polk residents, and the rest of the world, found out on Wednesday, June 25 what exactly is being constructed and just how large and luxurious Tryon Resort, formerly known as White Oak, is going to be for Polk County.
An announcement and groundbreaking ceremony was held at what will soon be an international equestrian center and retreat, located just off Hwy. 74’s Pea Ridge exit.
Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Tryon Equestrian Properties, made announcements Wednesday to a crowd of a few hundred invited to the property.
The biggest announcement was that of a planned 150-room hotel to be managed by Sheila C. Johnson’s Salamander Hotels & Resorts, one of the country’s top luxury hotel management companies. Salamander will assist with the development and management of hospitality and golf operations.
Activity at the equestrian center is set to begin as early as next week when on July 2 the center will host the first of multi-day, international-level equestrian competitions in cooperation with the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club.
When construction is complete the equestrian center will include up to 10 riding arenas, a 6,000-seat stadium, 1,000 permanent stalls, elevated and shaded viewing decks, a covered riding facility and the Tryon Sports Complex, which will include a health club, game room, kid’s camp, sport’s bar, children’s playground, tennis courts, a mountain bike park, climbing walls, basketball court and a large pool.
Tryon Resort will also include an RV park and luxury home sites along with an Arnold Palmer designed golf course.
“Our goal is to create a special place that focuses on the passion and love for both horses and horse sport,” said Bellissimo. “We intend for individuals and families, whether they are participants or spectators, to enjoy a broad range of activities while also maintaining the area’s rural character and honoring its long-standing equestrian tradition. We believe the resort will be a major job engine and contribute to the community’s economic recovery. Working with Salamander Hotels & Resorts, we aim to create a destination that equestrian, leisure and group travelers from all over the world will visit.”
Tryon Equestrian Partners’ founding shareholders are Roger and Jennifer Smith, who have lived in Polk County several years, Mark and Katherine Bellissimo, Gwen and Howard Dvorkin, Lisa Lourie, Diana and Jenji Merce and Joe and Cindy Mitchell.
Bellissimo said when asked why the partners’ chose Polk County that, “Roger Smith moved here and he was just captivated by the community.”
Roger Smith told the Bulletin on Wednesday that he knows there’s been some local criticism that the partners’ haven’t talked much about what they’ve been doing and there hasn’t been much coverage in the news about the project.
“But we operate under the saying, ‘speak little, do much,’” Roger Smith said. “And that’s where our focus has been.”
Roger Smith also said changing the name from White Oak to Tryon Resort was a suggestion by Salamander.
“Salamander suggested they change the name so it would have its own identity not linked with the earlier development planned for the site,” said Roger Smith. “Tryon has a long equestrian history and tradition and is widely recognized for that, so Tryon Resort and Tryon Equestrian Center seemed like the natural fit.”
Bellissimo spoke of Tryon’s rich equestrian history during Wednesday’s announcement. He said Tryon features a broad and deep history of equestrian culture that spans over 100 years and includes hunter/jumper, steeplechase, cross country, carriage driving, dressage, breeding, young horse shows, fox hunting and the western disciplines. Tryon is also considered the birthplace of modern show jumping, as it was the home of the 1956 and 1960 Olympic trials as well as training grounds for show jumping legends George Morris, Bert Denemethy, Gordon Wright and Frank Chapot.
Tryon Equestrian partners showed the audience a video created for the project, which includes a showcase of the area and its recreational opportunities, including its vineyards, art festivals, villages, archery, fly fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, white water rafting, sporting clays, tennis, ropes courses, a zip line park, kayaking, water and jet skiing and being within 25 miles of five recreational lakes and numerous hunting opportunities. See video at:
The hotel is scheduled to open in 2016, designed by AW Architects. The hotel will be built into the natural gradient of the land and overlook the mountains. The hotel will include a restaurant and bar, retail shops, market, indoor and outdoor heated pools, a fitness center, an event space for weddings and meetings and a 5,000 square foot entertainment pavilion with panoramic views.
Bellissimo and other partners thanked the Polk County Board of Commissioners for its cooperation throughout the project.
Polk County Commissioner Chair Ted Owens spoke at Wednesday’s event and thanked key officials for attending, including area mayors and commissioners and N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker.
Owens said in his lifetime in Polk County, there have been three economic events that have had a positive impact on the community. He named Milliken in the 1950s, the development boom, including Bright’s Creek, up until around 2007, “and the third event is happening right now.”
“Thank you for having the confidence in this area,” Owens said.
Owens said developers have been considerate and helpful to neighbors and in his 13 years as a commissioner he has never seen a development agreement completed between commissioners and developers in one meeting like the one with Tryon Equestrian Partners.
Owens also thanked Rutherford County for its assistance in the project.
“It is our hope and belief this project will be successful,” said Owens. “And I want you to know we commit Polk County government to support it.”
Decker said she loves to celebrate job growth but this project gets her in the heart because “this is home.”
She spoke of the equine industry being in North Carolina’s DNA and at the heart of its people.  She pledged the state of North Carolina’s support in the project.
“We look forward to growing with you and look forward to being a partner in the process,” Decker said.
Johnson, well known as one of America’s top entrepreneurs and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), is also a partner and vice chair of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
“There is tremendous synergy between our Middleburg (Va) resort and Tryon Resort, which provides Salamander another unique opportunity to demonstrate our expertise in the luxury resort market,” Johnson said. “I am grateful to the Bellissimos, whom I have known and respected for many years, and Tryon Equestrian Partners for choosing Salamander to manage this exciting and multifaceted development. We look forward to delivering on their extraordinary vision of a world-class resort in Tryon.”
Johnson said the success of Tryon Resort is beyond what anyone can imagine and is going to be an economic driver for the entire region. She also said she looks forward to her daughter riding at Tryon Resort.
Construction began in January 2014 with Tryon Equestrian Partners already hiring 500 people to move 1.6 million cubic yards of earth, build five riding arenas, construct 500 permanent stables, lay more than seven miles of fiber optic cable, create miles of walking bridles and paths, install utilities and build more than 20 structures, including several homes in the resort’s new Log Cabin Village.



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