NORTH PORT – On a pair of split votes, 3-2, the City of North Port Commission on Friday agreed to use a mix of tax revenue and park impact fees to pay for the first part of the master plan of Warm Mineral Springs.
This initial phase, valued at $ 9.3 million, will cover the restoration of the three structures of the 21.6-acre Warm Mineral Springs Activity Center, the extension of the water and sewer lines of the city up to the property and the reconstruction of the parking lot.
Funding for the rest of the plan, developed by Kimley-Horn, with a projected cost of $ 19.5 million, covers the potential uses of the park’s remaining 61.4 acres.
The two commissioners who voted against the use of the surtax funds – Deputy Mayor Pete Emrich and Commissioner Barbara Langdon – had both hoped that an outside investor could be found to develop other uses for the 61.4 acres. under the public-private partnership and pay for the first phase. , too much.
Langdon said the city’s commitment to using sales tax money and impact fees for upgrades could encourage potential outside developers to come forward.
“He’s my silver lining in this discussion,” she added.
Langdon and Emrich both noted that sales tax funds are still tax revenue and could be used elsewhere to fund capital projects that might otherwise be funded from the city’s general fund.
“I agree, Warm Mineral Springs needs to be the center of attention for remediation, but we need to do due diligence to taxpayers when we do it,” Emrich said. “There are other sources of funding that can take place. ”
He suggested the city could take out a loan, possibly sell part of the site for private development and put it back on the tax roll, or seek partnerships.
He quoted the 2014 effort to do so, however, one of the proposals involved using the park land as collateral for loans to develop a $ 34 million project.
Hot mineral springs considered a valuable asset
Commissioner Debbie McDowell pointed out that Warm Mineral Springs – which the city annexed in 2000 when it was private, then jointly owned with Sarasota County from 2010 to 2015, when the city bought it outright – Is an asset.
“It’s our capital and she made more money than I could have imagined,” she said.
The city pays national and state park concessions, Warm Mineral Springs Inc., approximately $ 48,000 per month to mine the springs and maintain the revenue generated.
In recent years, the sources have generated between $ 300,000 and $ 400,000 per year.
McDowell noted that park attendance was 4,571 in February, as social distancing concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic began to fade and then nearly doubled again to 7,100 in March. and stood at 7,537 in April.
That means net income jumped from $ 47,600 in February to around $ 157,000 in April.
“It’s with these buildings in total disarray and people always come to see this wonderful asset,” McDowell said.
These three buildings, which include a sales building, a restaurant and spa building, and a cyclorama, were built for the three-month quadrennial in Florida, which began in December 1959.
The sales building and the spa are the main point of entry to the springs. The cyclorama – essentially a circular exhibition hall with interior murals – is currently closed and is said to be one of only three remaining in the United States.
The city effectively created its own Historic Register in 2017, as part of an effort to have all three structures, which would be designed by Jack West of the Sarasota School of Architecture, be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The source itself was entered in the register in 1977. All three buildings were entered in the register in September 2019.
“Once these buildings are repaired, yes we can advertise the beauty of these buildings to everyone,” McDowell said.
“I imagine Visit Sarasota really plugs Warm Mineral Springs once it’s been revitalized,” she added later, referring to the area’s tourism promotion agency. “Right now, no one is plugging in Warm Mineral Springs because it looks like crap – that’s the end result.”
The commission voted to move the money from the previously allocated surtax from the Myakkahatchee Creek Greenway to $ 1.4 million; Spring Haven Land Acquisition at $ 1.4 million and design of the Dallas White master plan and site renovation at $ 1.5 million, as well as $ 200,000 for a restroom project at LaBrea Park. In the same motion, they also voted to dedicate a park impact fee to the expansion and paving of the parking lot.
After a unanimous vote to revisit the four capital projects during budgeting, the commission voted to withdraw the remaining surtax funds from the $ 9 million in surtax funds set aside to build a community center at Atwater Park.
A possible partnership
Ironically, the proposed community center at Atwater Park and the redevelopment of Dallas White Park were both part of a public-private partnership opportunity that global real estate company Colliers International was set to announce, ahead of the pandemic-induced economic shutdown. COVID-19 in 2020.
The commission is scheduled to discuss the future of Dallas White Park, including Colliers’ plan to advertise a public-private partnership in September at its meeting on Tuesday.
In an email sent to the city in May, Colliers representatives also expressed interest in commercializing Warm Mineral Springs for the development of public-private partnerships.
While not addressing this directly, Langdon said she hoped the city could get a restaurateur to develop something akin to a “high-end Snook Haven,” and the University of Miami , or another entity to build a museum on part of the remaining area.
While a museum was part of the Kimley-Horn plan, Langdon’s proposal for a second restaurant – to accompany a cafe that would reopen as part of the three structures near the springs – intrigued his fellow commissioners.
“It would be great to have it right next to the entrance,” McDowell said.
Commissioner Alice White noted that with other agencies considering the restoration of the Warm Mineral Springs Creek, which has been suffocated by sediment, it may be possible for manatees to head north to the park.
“We could actually have a manatee viewing area here in North Port,” White said. “How awesome that would be.”
North Port Parks and Recreation Director Sandy Pfundheller said additional phases of the park’s development can easily be changed.
“The master plan is just a guide, a concept,” she said. “The scope of services and the detail of what we want to see would be discussed. ”
Earle Kimel primarily covers southern Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.