The Real Deal Miami

Equestrian sector spurs development in Palm Beach

By Dan Weil | September 19, 2008 09:46AM

Many segments of the South Florida real estate market continue to struggle, but the equestrian sector is a horse of a different color.

On Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Commission approved plans to build an equestrian center and 192 accompanying homes on a 960-acre site near Palm Beach Gardens.

The county originally bought the tract, called Mecca Farms, to house Scripps, the world’s largest private, nonprofit biomedical research organization.

But Scripps decided to locate in Jupiter instead, so the county had to find another use for the land.

Palm Beach County remains a haven for the equestrian industry, with most of the action centered in Wellington. The village has several large polo fields and hosts the 11-week Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

“Overall the number of horses visiting Palm Beach County tends to increase year after year,” says Don Dufresne, president of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission. “Wellington has become the epicenter of worldwide equestrian events during the winter.”

It even has a 12,175-acre equestrian preserve to restrain development and keep that area horse friendly.

The real estate activity that accompanies the equestrian lifestyle is largely benign, with low density development and land usage that doesn’t hurt the environment, Dufresne points out.

“It’s a wonderful use of land with beautiful farms,” he says. “There is a little bit of rancher/farmer in all of us.”

But the downside of equestrian growth is that residential subdivisions are built near equestrian areas and then begin to encroach on the equestrian land itself, Dufresne says. “Over the last 30 years, there has been a steady loss in the amount of land appropriated for equestrian use.”