Warm Mineral Springs future in question

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NORTH PORT - The future of Warm Mineral Springs is heating up again. A plan put in motion for economic development appears to have hit a snag with newly elected officials in North Port.

The attraction is jointly owned by Sarasota County and the city, but it now has leaders from both sides concerned.

Dozens filled the Sarasota County commission chambers in Venice Tuesday. Their issue is where the springs is headed. "It's a part of our ancient waters. It's important to North Port and it's important to the county on a number of complex levels," said local resident Lawry Reid.

In 2010, commissioners from both local governments agreed to purchase the site for $5.5 million. In North Port two of those commissioners have now been voted out. Their replacements are not exactly on board with the current development process, says Mayor Linda Yates. "We do have a new commission up there and we are at a different phase of this project. I seem to be inline with two other commissioners on the city board as far as how we proceed."

County Commissioners like Joe Barbetta feel it's a step back. "Basically it overturned everything. It seems like we are back to square one and it is a little disheartening."

Barbetta, along with others, would like to see the spring overhauled and used more as an economic engine while preserving the area. "High end spa. A world class spa. A resort more tourism oriented. Protect the surrounding area also. The right kind of development."

However, some are concerned the current process focuses too much on the development and not enough on preserving the spring. "I believe we have differences of opinion on that," says Yates.

Right now the company which sold the site is still operating it. The agreement gives them all of the proceeds until May of 2013. A new plan of some sort will need to be in place before then. "I have a feeling there is going to be excuses to stall or delay it. It is unfortunate," says Barbetta.

"I don't think this puts anything to a halt. It will if we let it but it shouldn't. This is all about what process are we going to use," says Yates.

For now, even the process to figure out what could be done is uncertain. "There has got to be agreement of competing ideas," says Reid.

Tuesday evening, county commissioners voted to bring in multiple options for the site while calling for a full review by both commissions. County commissioners want to hear specific concerns from North Port city leaders before holding a joint meeting.