Soft opening for World Equestrian Center in October 2020
This looks official and a deadline for the opening. Mary Luster and Jeff Magoteaux are excited to be the Realtors of Choice as the exclusive brokerage for the World Equestrian Estates. As a true team, call on either one of us to and go to https://wwwe.gojeffandmary.com for all the latest WEC updates and Golden Ocala!
The Golden Retriever Club of America National Specialty event.
For Marion County residents itching to attend the World Equestrian Center’s first event, the facility will have a “soft” opening in October 2020.
But horse enthusiasts chomping at the bit to see the first horse show at the new facility, billed to be the nation’s largest, will have to pull back the reins.
The soft opening will actually be a weeks-long dog show, called the 2020 Golden Retriever Club of America National Specialty event. The first horse event will be held after the new complex officially opens on Jan. 1, 2021.
“The only thing ‘soft’ about the opening will be the fuzzy fur on the attendees’ backs,” said Karl Kaufmann, WEC’s director sales and marketing.
The news was announced Wednesday during the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership’s (CEP) monthly “Exceptional Mornings” breakfast meeting. The event was held at the Marion County Extension Auditorium next the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion on Northeast Jacksonville Road.
Kevin Sheilley, the CEP’s president & CEO, said a record number of business people wanted to attend Wednesday’s event to hear more about WEC’s vision. An overflow crowd stood in the back of the auditorium to hear the 20-minute presentation.
Sheilley asked Kaufmann why WEC officials have been calling local hotels to inquire about room availability in October 2020. Officials want to find enough rooms for the 900 retriever owners, who will be in town for more than a week in October 2020.
The Mid-Florida Golden Retriever Club announced on its Facebook page that it had been picked to host the 2020 Golden Retriever Club of America National Specialty. The event will be held at the WEC and surrounding area over 13 days, mostly Oct. 19-24.
The WEC developer is RLR Investments LLC, which is part of Ohio trucking-magnate Larry Roberts’ diverse roster of companies, which includes the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, adjacent to the WEC.
The WEC is the centerpiece of an upscale residential community planned for nearly 4,000 acres west of County Road 225A, between U.S. 27 and State Road 40. Roberts’ team has planned 2,400 homes, including estate homes and condominiums. There are plans for retail and commercial space, as well as room for 200 recreational vehicle spaces.
Kaufmann said the WEC will employ hundreds of people and the economic impact will be immediate upon opening.
“We estimate 300 to 500 jobs, ranging throughout the year, just for the World Equestrian Center alone,” Kaufmann said. “It will have an enormous impact on the area.”
Kaufmann said the facility will drive business throughout Ocala and Marion County, including gas stations, motels, equine sports industries and other services.
World Equestrian Center events will “define what tourism becomes in Marion County and, the way I look at it, in the State of Florida,” Kaufmann noted.
“People will come to Florida and say they want to go there (WEC) and see what events they have there, whether they are an equine fan or not, because there will be nothing else like it,” Kaufmann said.
In 2021, there will be an immediate impact on the sales and bed tax revenue, he said.
“This will not be a gradual ramp up,” he noted. “When we turn that switch on in 2021, our neighboring hotels, and our neighboring motels, should see a significant spike.”
WEC officials also played a commercial on Wednesday that has aired in recent months on the NBC Sports channel. The professional commercial showed drawings of the WEC, from different angles.
“Coming soon to Ocala, Florida, The Horse Capital of the World, a luxurious destination that will redefine equestrian sports in the United States of America,” the commercial stated. “Where passion, potential and prestige come together in pursuit of excellence. World Equestrian Center. Quality. Class. Distinction. Ocala 2021.”
The WEC facility will feature a 140,000-square-foot outdoor stadium arena. It will also feature four climate-controlled indoor arenas.
Each indoor arena will total 145,000-square-feet, including 104,000 square feet of riding space. The four indoor arenas combined will cover more than 13 acres, WEC officials said.
Marion County is extremely hot during the summer. It is too hot for Marion to host outdoor equestrian events. The air-conditioned, indoor arenas should draw more summer shows to the area.
Vinnie Card, WEC’s director of operations, said Wednesday at the CEP meeting that the five-star hotel will not be completed for the soft opening. That’s why they are trying to secure motel rooms for the 900 golden retriever families.
“One of our crown jewels is our hotel, the centerpiece directly in the center of our facility and will overlook our grand arena outside,” Card said. “It will have 124 rooms overlooking the arena, 248 rooms overall.”
Card said some hotel rooms will be 2,200-square-foot presidential suites. The hotel will have 18,000 square feet of retail space and have several restaurants. Total retail space throughout the acreage will top 100,000 square feet. There will also be a 120-seat chapel.
“This chapel shows our commitment to faith and family,” Card noted.
Kaufmann said the equine mission has always been first and foremost “on our mind.”
“However, we are a true multi-purpose facility,” Kaufmann continued. “When everyone visits, we want everyone to have a great time. We are 18 months from opening and we are still coming up with ways to entertain and engage our customers.”
Kaufmann said while they are hosting horse events, they also want residents to “experience a car show or a wine and cheese festival.” He said WEC will be “like Epcot inside our grand plaza.”
Officials also tried to put the grand scale of the Ocala facility into prospective. The company’s other World Equestrian Center, located in Wilmington, Ohio, is considered one of the biggest in the country.
It has 800 horse stalls, which “are full this weekend with an Arabian horse show,” Card noted on Wednesday.
“In comparison, we (WEC Ocala) will have over 2,100 stalls,” he noted.
The concrete stalls, which measure 12-feet by 14-feet, have rubber mat flooring to make horses comfortable. There will be wash racks, with hot and cold water, and covered walkways from the barns to the indoor arenas to keep riders and horses out of the elements.
“How big is 104,000 square feet?” Kauffman said, comparing the number to Florida Field, which is “only” 57,600 square feet.
“This world destination is so much more to Marion County than 6,000 hooves at a time,” Kaufmann noted. “It means communitywide events. It means dining, entertainment, recreation.”
WEC officials hope the facility will one day soon host U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) events and Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) sanctioned events.
Organizers hope the facility becomes a center for equestrian sports including hunter/jumper, dressage, vaulting and reining events as well as a place for breed-specific shows. The facility can also accommodate diverse non-equestrian events.
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews