Deal could be coming for Warm Mineral Springs

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SARASOTA COUNTY - Most North Port city leaders want to at least work with Sarasota County on a short-term agreement over the future of Warm Mineral Springs, and the county is also willing to talk.

"It's pretty exciting. I think it was finally a breakthrough," says City Commissioner Jim Blucher.

Monday, North Port city commissioners voted 3-1 to negotiate a short-term lease with a third party to manage and keep the springs open. "We have finally come up with an agreement on a short term lease. We did say they we do not want it more that a year."

The two local governments could start to recoup some of its more than $5 million investment while hashing out a more long-range plan.

"It's more positive because there are discussions happening."  Talks of selling the spring have quieted for now. Tuesday, Sarasota County commissioners like Christine Robinson voted 4-1 to go along. "We have a new discussion now as opposed to just talking about the sale of the springs. I think we have information we can use to come to an agreement."

Important decisions because the deal with the current vendor to operate the spring is set to expire at the end of June. As part of the purchase agreement in 2010, that vendor has done some work on the property but also taken in all the profits. Without direction now the spring might be closed. "There was concern we would have to board up the springs. Nobody wanted that. Nobody from the County. Nobody from the City wanted that to happen," says Blucher.

Both local governments will still be going to mediation next week regarding the issue. Robinson says the outcome of the recent votes will be somewhere to start. "Maybe we might have to steer a new path but I am hopeful we can come to a resolution and start getting things done again. Working hard for the residents of Sarasota County and North Port together."

And if that happens, the site touted as an economic driver for the area can finally start to go forward in some direction. "The springs will bring tourism. It will brings things to North Port we have never had before. Number one is a hotel. I think it will be a couple of hotels before it is all over," says Blucher.

Both City and County leaders will now have to decide if they want to keep the company which is currently running the springs or look for new.

The one dissenting county vote came from Commissioner Joe Barbetta. He believes the issue should be resolved once and for all. Mayor Linda Yates says she'd rather see local governments run the site without a third party.