Crowd of 340 attends event at Tryon International Equestrian Center

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Roger Smith speaks with participants at an event last week at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. (photo by Leah Justice)

Roger Smith speaks with participants at an event last week at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. (photo by Leah Justice)


by Leah Justice

Polk County and Landrum businesses and government officials showed their support and excitement over the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) last week by turning out in numbers to a “Jumping to the Future” thank you event.

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Tryon Equestrian Properties Managing Partner Mark Bellisimo said to a crowd of 340 last Wednesday, Oct. 15 that he’s never been more personally satisfied, never felt more welcome and never seen a community care as much this one.

Mark Bellisimo

Mark Bellisimo

The Foothills Chamber of Commerce and Polk County Government sponsored the event as a way to say to TIEC “Thank you for choosing Polk County.”

Foothills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Sciacca said the turnout just goes to show how much the business community is thankful of TIEC being here.

Interim Polk County Economic Development Director Robert Williamson said this is an amazing opportunity for the area economically.

He said surveys are currently being taken of the visitors to TIEC regarding what services they are interested in for the area. Williamson said the survey results will be shared with the business community for TIEC’s upcoming spring shows. He said there is generally 20 states represented at the shows, saying how interesting it is to see so many people coming for a world-class venue, something Polk County is not used to seeing.

Vice President of Resort Operations Vaneli Bojkova said Wednesday’s turnout spoke volumes about the active business membership in this community.

“It really does show what great support this community and this region has,” Bojkova said.

She thanked Bellisimo and partner Roger Smith for their vision here. Bojkova said when she was first brought out to the property in Pea Ridge, she looked out and saw nothing but trees as no clearing had been done at the time.

“In true Mark fashion, he literally started drawing out rings and restrooms,” Bojkova said. “I’m always honored and fascinated by what he sees.”

Bojkova said she is inspired by Bellisimo’s vision but really it’s the community that made this happen.

“Everyone is so happy to help,” said Bojkova. “I felt the energy and excitement…I’ve never witnessed such a willing, helpful group of people. We look forward to helping you.”

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Bellisimo said Bojkova gave him a little more credit than he deserves. He said Roger and Jennifer Smith deserve the credit for their vision here.

Bellisimo said the TIEC is one of his greatest accomplishments and thanked the Polk County Board of Commissioners, former county economic development director Libbie Johnson and county planner Cathy Ruth for their help and cooperation.

He said Johnson was the first call the partners made and Ruth was the second and both were “amazingly critical in helping us understand the opportunity here.”

Bellisimo said people in other areas told him there was absolutely no way he could be successful in a small North Carolina town with no infrastructure and no hotels.

“This place is very special because of its rural character and we have to do it in a way that protects that,” Bellisimo said.

In Wellington, Fla., Bellisimo said when he purchased that equestrian center the community there said he would destroy it.

In many ways, he said, what we destroyed was the inclusiveness. Instead of being a very inclusive place, Bellisimo said he and partners opened it up to the public, to the public education system and stopped charging admission.

“In the end, what we had down there became special,” Bellisimo said. “The national anthem was not sung by a reality star three weeks out of rehab, but by a 12-year old.”

Bellisimo said his greatest skill is not vision, but his ability to identify with great people; how he organizes and respects people.

“That’s how this place evolved from January to June,” he said. “People said your workforce couldn’t do it. We proved them wrong.”

Bellisimo also said although the TIEC is a for-profit venture, it’s not about the money.

“It really has become something much more significant,” he said. “It’s rare in your life to have an opportunity to change a community.”

He said this community is hungry for growth and jobs and people come up to him all the time and say “thank you so much.”

“It’s one thing to jam that into a community,” he said; “it’s another when the community is pulling.”

Bellisimo said there is a deep, sincere desire to be successful, and “we don’t want to let you down. This is a fundamental game changer for this community.”

Smith spoke briefly, saying, “This is our home. We love it and love the people.”

Smith said he and Jennifer couldn’t be happier and that’s he’s proud and living his dream.

Events at TIEC are open to the public and free. For more information on TIEC visit