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The focus at Warm Mineral Springs Park turns from demolition to restoration

A overview of Warm Mineral Springs, surrounded by people and grass during a sunny day
City of North Port

The North Port City Commission voted to have city staff come up with an analysis of the cost to restore the buildings, along with flood mitigation and insurance options.

The North Port City Commission is halting any exploration into demolishing three historic buildings at Warm Mineral Springs Park.

Earlier this week, the commission instead voted to have city staff come up with a full-cost analysis on how much it'd cost to restore the historic cyclorama, spa and sales building on the property, along with flood mitigation and insurance options.

The city had entered a public-private partnership with a development group last year to fully redevelop the park, which caught plenty of public backlash. The partnership ended earlier this year without a deal in place.

A February report from architecture firm Sweet Sparkman listed the price for restoring the old sales building, spa and cyclorama at between $11 million and $13 million.

The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation presented a potential plan to the commission that would have the city invest $5 million up front for restoration, and then more money over the course of four years to complete its revitalization.

Commissioners showed some concerns on the potential costs of restoration for the buildings on Warm Mineral Springs.

But Tony Souza, chairman of the Sarasota County Historic Preservation Board, said the city can apply for several grants and programs to mitigate that price.

"[Warm Mineral Springs] is something that's probably world-known,” Souza said. “And when you talk about ‘this is the only thing we have in North Port,’ it's not the only thing you have. But this is the greatest thing, because it's much bigger than this whole area."

North Port Vice Mayor Phil Stokes says he wants to see the city make the investment toward the buildings, regardless if the money is earned from taxpayers or a revenue bond.

"I think we ought to work to do this,” Stokes said. “I think people want to do it. I think it'd be great for our city. In the long run, that whole area of mineral springs should become a wonderful, exciting district.”

Other commissioners voiced concerns about the price of insuring those buildings being too high, or aligning them with FEMA regulations.

“I'm not at all comfortable spending millions of dollars restoring buildings, with the likelihood that we can't insure them,” said Commissioner Barbara Langdon. “I don't think that's good stewardship. I don't care where the money comes from, from taxpayers or grants or other sources. I think it is potentially a serious misuse of funds.”

But Historic preservation officials attending the meeting said there could be alternatives for both of those potential hurdles because of the buildings’ listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ultimately, the commission voted for researching the building costs, flood mitigation and hardening costs, and insurance options.

The commission also set forth a motion to gather state and county leadership in a special meeting to talk about the future of Warm Mineral Springs.

Commissioner Debbie McDowell attempted to create an amendment to the motion that would push the city manager toward contracting a management company for the operations of the spring, as it’s recently been run by city employees. That motion failed 1-4.

And the commission voted for the city to pursue completing design for the Legacy Trail expansion, which would end in the Warm Mineral Springs parking lot.

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