Sarasota News Leader


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 85 of 92

Springs as a public park only, with no devel- opment other than the minimal facilities that existed to accommodate swimmers. To exercise their clout, the three blocked any attempt by the county to agree on long-term plans for Warm Mineral Springs. At one point, the city and county participated in a formal dispute resolution with an outside mediator. That process yielded a tenuous agreement, but subsequent hesitancy by the three North Port commissioners delayed that hard- fought accord. Even an offer by the county to buy North Port's share for $2 million was curtly rebuffed with- out a counteroffer. As a result, the con- tract with the existing facility manager expired last year without a successor, and Warm Mineral Springs was closed to the public. Eventually, the voting block on the North Port Commission weakened in the face of public criticism about the closed attraction, but a solution that would reopen the Springs was months away. The county was bound by state law in carrying out a competitive bidding pro- cess for seeking even a short-term operator for Warm Mineral Springs, so until that pro- cess could be completed, the attraction had to remain closed. Finally, a short-term contract was awarded to National and State Park Concessions to operate the site through Aug. 31, 2014. Once the agreement was finalized and the facilities assessed, the park reopened to the public. This gave the two commissions time to enter- tain long-term proposals for the management of the attraction. Several proposals were received as part of that bidding process, and in June, the two com- missions narrowed the field down to two. National and State P a r k C o n c e s s i o n s was one of them, with a proposal to keep the park open with minimal changes; it gradually would begin improvements after a couple of years of continued operations. The other bidder, local developer Jebco Ventures, proposed a much grander vision for the park, with extensive renovations and improvements to facilities, the creation of a spa-type resort and, eventu- ally, even residences on the grounds. But in June, the majority of the North Port commissioners embraced the minimalism of the National and State Park Concessions proposal and expressed disdain for the Jebco plan, which they felt would overdevelop the attraction. Conversely, the county commis- sioners felt the Jebco proposal would yield the greatest potential for the Springs in the What started less than four years ago as an exciting prospect for Sarasota County-North Port cooperation in the preservation and development of a world- renowned natural resource was derailed only two years later by new faces on the North Port Commission and a sea change in that city's politics. OPINION Sarasota News Leader July 25, 2014 Page 86

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Sarasota News Leader - 07/25/2014