North Port's Warm Mineral Springs is set to reopen as the potential for development looms
It comes as some residents and park goers push back on a developer's proposed plan to build a hotel, restaurant, and more on the park's land.
More than six months after it was closed due to damage sustained during Hurricane Ian, Warm Mineral Springs Park in North Port is set to reopen April 7.
The reopening comes as some residents and park goers push back on a developer's proposed plan to build a hotel, restaurant, and more on the park's land.
The park is reopening at 9 a.m., with the only approval still needed coming from the Florida Department of Health. North Port Marketing and Engagement Manager Laura Ansel said she expects that final check to be complete within the next two days.
In the months it took to repair the park, Ansel said they had to clear debris, complete fixes to the pump house to restore water, erect a modular admissions building and a portable restroom trailer, restore power from downed power lines, and clear paved walkways to make sure the facility was still ADA compliant.
“And then we had to hire staff, so we had to hire and onboard new lifeguards and conduct the training,” Ansel said. “All of this was happening concurrently over the last few months.”
And all of the fixes come as the city has been looking into working with a developer to build more amenities on the land.
Warm Mineral Springs Development Group LLC was the only developer to submit a proposal, despite the city extending the RFP period for three business days.
The current plan being proposed by the group would include a 250-room hotel, 300 residential units, a wellness center, a restaurant, and a Native American History Museum.
The proposal has caught backlash from longtime visitors of the park, as well as environmentalists who are concerned about the impact of heavy development on the land itself, and an offshoot of the spring that serves as a warmwater refuge for manatees during colder winter months.
Resident Jasmine Bowman says she would go to the park multiple times per week, as the spring's mineral-rich waters helped soothe the arthritis pain in her hips.
Now that the park's reopening, Bowman says she doesn't feel comfortable going because of the city's plans for development.
"As much as I love for my own personal well-being, being there, I just don't feel that in good conscience, I can keep paying my money into that when that is their intention,” Bowman said.
Instead, Bowman said she would like to see the city follow the 2019 master plan for the park, which was completed after rounds of resident feedback. It featured fixing and updating existing buildings, and other “low-impact” development, like additional picnic areas and an open-air amphitheater.
Ansel says before anything were to be developed on the land, there would need to be independent research done on the land, wildlife, and a survey to gauge the overall community's interest.
"We'll make sure that we're hearing from all aspects of our community,” Ansel said. “We're over 100 miles of a city, so there's a lot of corners of our community, and we want to make sure that we're hearing everyone's feedback on what this would look like."
The negotiations between the developer and North Port officials over the proposed project will remain private, but a public hearing will be held when the potential contract is completed.
A North Port City Commission workshop on April 10 will look into changing the zoning of the land at the park to accommodate the development proposals.
Bowman said she and others will continue to fight against the city’s plans.
“The reason I started going to Warm Mineral Springs was selfish, I guess you could say,” Bowman said. “For my personal benefit or how it made me feel, which is there's nothing wrong with that. But the more time I spent there, the more I came to realize that there's a lot more going on there than just me, like it's the place is amazing … it’s so much bigger than us.”
In the meantime, the park reopens April 7, and admission is free through April 11.
Residents who purchased a multi-visit or annual pass before Hurricane Ian can either ask for an extension and get a refund at the George Mullen Activity Center. During the proposal process, Ansel said no new passes can be purchased.
During an April 11 city commission meeting, the commissioners will review a proposal to adjust the daily park admission free to $5 per day for Sarasota County residents, and $7 a day for non-residents.
Current cost for county residents is $15 per visit, and $20 for non-residents.