OUR POSITION: North Port’s vision for Warm Mineral Springs comes into perspective.

Following up on a matter from earlier in the week, kudos to the newly constituted North Port City Commission, which carefully combed through a consultant’s recommended master plan for the city-owned Warm Mineral Springs last Monday and ended up with something the community will be proud of.

Way back when – a decade or more ago – we thought the best use of 82-acre Springs site would be new, upscale spa facilities. There was untapped potential for an attraction that would fuel economic development and tourism in a city that doesn’t have other natural attractions, like a Gulf beach or harbor.

That may be true, still.

But the ground has shifted. A new spring training stadium for the Atlanta Braves is being built only miles down the road. A baseball academy will run year-round. There may be summer minor league games, plus occasional concerts and festivals.

The Braves are putting North Port-West Villages on the visitation map. And that means there’s less need for a booster shot from Warm Mineral Springs. Plus, local sentiment has drifted to the low-impact public park model. The vision we’re left with is good enough, and it could prove to be very nice.

The concept plan OK’d by commissioners last week features existing buildings and natural features of what is now called Warm Mineral Springs Park. The city will renovate the six-decade-old main buildings designed by famed Sarasota School architect Jack West. The city is seeking historic building designation on the buildings, including the “cyclorama,” one of a few such structures that still standing in the U.S.

By all accounts, the cyclorama has significant potential for visitors and school groups: The round building features the (true-life) history of native Indian life and Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon’s search for the mythical Fountain of Youth here (untrue-life).

Renovations will be expensive. The city’s budget puts the number at $2.4 million. There are major plumbing problems. Septic is a potential disaster.

Overall, City Manager Peter Lear said, “We’re hobbling along putting Band Aids on what need to be done out there.”

And that makes sense, for the time being.

The spa generates income of $300,000-$400,000 a year. We suspect that can be increased substantially with the proper renovations, increased services and improved marketing.

Tweaking the plan, commissioners ditched the idea of a tent and RV campground with tourist cabins. Horse trails were scrapped, but walking trails will be created. Most exciting was the idea to build towers with an elevated walkway at nearthe treeline.

To get an idea of how great that could be, check out the 74-foot-tall observation tower and canopy walk at Myakka State Park. (Note also for future reference, Myakka’s canopy walk was built through a major fundraising campaign.)

The park also will have designated event space for music and outdoor movies. (Note, again, for a future model, the Englewood CRA/Sarasota County has a portable stage and ADA-compliant portable toilets for public events. This works well.) The city also may build a small pavilion suitable for classes and a larger pavilion to be used for larger events like weddings.

Overall, the focus is a nature park surrounding a reasonably priced public Springs. Similar to what it is today, but perhaps a whole lot more enticing.

To see plan pre-edited outlines, Google “Warm Mineral Springs Park” and click on the city website. Links are at the top of the page.

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