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North Port officials end negotiations for a large-scale development on Warm Mineral Springs

plenty of people seated in the grass surrounding a large spring on a cloudy yet pretty day.
City of North Port
/
Courtesy
Warm Mineral Springs was eventually sold off to Sarasota County and the City of North Port after being privately owned. It was finally purchased fully by North Port in 2014.

The city of North Port announced Friday that negotiations for a public-private partnership with a developer broke down.

The controversial development of the land surrounding Florida's only natural hot spring appears to be back at square one.

The city of North Port announced Friday that negotiations for a public-private partnership with a developer broke down.

North Port officials and the developer had plans for a hotel, residential units, a wellness center, and more on the Warm Mineral Springs property.

WMS Development Group, LLC cited high insurance costs and staffing expenses as reasons for ending the negotiations.

“Our insurance costs are a lot lower than what they would have had to pay,” City Manager Jerome Fletcher told WUSF. “I think ours are totally under $100,000, and theirs was going to be over $300,000, which, when you look at the margin for profit, that's sort of eats into a good chunk of it.”

Now, Fletcher says the city staff is going to suggest to focus in on the roughly 20 acres immediately around the spring and use internal funding to make much-needed improvements.

“We have roughly $9 million in the Warm Mineral Springs enterprise account and we want to take that money and put it towards renovating the springs, and renovating at least maybe one building,” Fletcher said.

He says other buildings might be demolished because they’re too damaged to repair.

As for the 60 acres that make up the surrounding portion of the property, Fletcher says it’s still possible the city will solicit a developer to build further developments on the land.

“At the end of the day, the ball is now in the city's court,” Fletcher said. “And I think that we need to step up, and we need to have our plan and execute on our plan. And then simultaneously, we need to do a request for proposal, see what kind of interest is over there and let someone come build, and maybe not be so restrictive or not so hands-on and let people do what they do best.

“I think we keep trying to turn it into something that we want it to be versus appreciating it for what it is and letting it be the best it can be.”

The plan had received backlash from many residents. A survey last year showed the vast majority of the respondents were against “high-intensity” development of the land.

"They're talking about looking at a new direction. Well, let's hopefully respect the community in that search for a new direction."
David Iannotti

David Iannotti is a North Port resident who helped lead the pushback against the city and developer’s plans.

After months of arguing against the development plans and seeing them continue moving forward, he was not confident in it being stopped.

"I felt really defeated… I felt that they were definitely going forward with putting hotels and condos and mini-golf on this site," Iannotti said.

He says he's now "cautiously optimistic."

"They're talking about looking at a new direction," Iannotti said. "Well, let's hopefully respect the community in that search for a new direction."

Many residents against the plan pointed to a 2019 master plan for the spring as a potential alternative, which called for low-level developments on the park land.

"They talked about an outdoor event area, so possibly weddings, maybe even small concerts," Iannotti said. “This is the type of thing I think that you could do tastefully. The idea of having timeshare condos and put-put, I think really strikes most people as really out of tune.”

The city says its still in the process of several studies for the Springs, including a threatened and endangered species survey and a geotechnical study to examine its potential for development.

The geotechnical study is expected to be complete by May.

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