Springs Forward

North Port Commissioners Vote Against Demolishing Historic Structures at Warm Minerals Springs

The public turned out in droves to urge the city to preserve the site's structures, and commissioners voted unanimously to explore options outside of demolition.

By Kim Doleatto May 29, 2024

Warm Mineral Springs Park is located at 12200 San Servando Ave. in North Port.

At yesterday's regular meeting, City of North Port commissioners voted unanimously to not demolish three historic buildings at Warm Mineral Springs.  The vote followed a presentation by the Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation (SAHP), which presented options for drawing on state and federal preservation grants, city funds and tax credits to help restore the historic structures.

Those buildings include a park spa building, a sales building and a cyclorama, which contains an exhibit depicting Ponce de Leon’s alleged discovery of Warm Mineral Springs, which he assumed was the Fountain of Youth. The spa building and the cyclorama were designed by Jack West, a leader of the Sarasota School of Architecture.

The commissioner's vote directed staff to halt demolition on the site and not proceed until further direction, as well as prepare the estimated cost of restoring all three buildings on the site. including the cyclorama alone. Commissioners also asked for the cost of adding water, sewer and sanitation facilities. Right now, the site runs on a septic tank.

Commissioners also added amendments for working with the SAHP to determine the cost for flood mitigation and hardening the facilities to protect them from water damage, and to explore insurance options.

Another vote requested that North Port's city manager, Jerome Fletcher, invite Sarasota County and state elected officials to a think tank discussion to weigh potential options for the site. And commissioners also voted unanimously to direct Fletcher to work with Friends of The Legacy Trail to pursue design and funding options to eventually connect Warm Mineral Springs site to the trail.

The votes followed impassioned pleas from droves of public speakers who urged the North Port commissioners to save the springs. Speakers highlighted the site’s historical and cultural value as well as its value as a unique destination for heritage and ecotourism—not to mention the healing effects many believe the water has on those who swim there. 

Jan Vertefeuilee and Dave Baber present at the North Port city commission meeting.
Jan Vertefeuilee and Dave Baber present at the North Port city commission meeting.

The SAHP’s 10-minute presentation was led by Dave Baber, Jan Vertefeuille and Tony Souza. Using local architecture firm Sweet Sparkman’s Warm Mineral Springs Building Complex Post-Storm Assessment and Options report, which estimated that full restoration of the three historic buildings would cost between $11 million and $13.1 million, the SAHP presented a multi-year plan that uses matching grants and historic tax credits to fund the restoration, among other sources. The historic designation of the buildings enables exemptions under the Florida Building Code that make renovations more feasible.

The plan also proposed that the City of North Port invest $3.5 million to stabilize the buildings, which have been languishing since Hurricane Ian, and then open one opened immediately as a ticket office and for visitor amenities. 

The three buildings at Warm Mineral Springs have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, exempting them from certain FEMA requirements. But recognizing concerns about investing in restoration in a flood plain, the SAHP suggested installing flood barriers and elevating the buildings' interior floors, electrical outlets and mechanical elements, which wouldn’t alter the exteriors of the buildings.

For now, the vote entails the continued use of portable buildings for ticket sales and restroom facilities at the springs. It would also negate a decision made in March that favored replacing the structures with a new single building for ticket sales and bathrooms.

"Code compliance and restoration aren't mutually exclusive," said Erin DiFazio, program director of the SAHP. "Thoughtful restoration could be sound and safe and last for many years. New construction is not cheaper than restoration and has a huge carbon footprint. There's nothing inherent in old buildings that makes them more expensive.”

Last year, the commission pursued negotiations with a private developer to finance the restoration of the three buildings on the 21.6-acre Warm Mineral Springs site, and included plans to develop 61.4 surrounding acres in exchange for preservation efforts. The plan included a potential resort with 250 rooms, a full-service spa and event space, and a wellness center to facilitate a holistic wellness program that would include classes and treatments in a variety of holistic approaches. The proposal also said the developer, WMSDG, would “fund, without debt or outside investment, the entire cost of the project over and above the $9,345,471 million allocated by the City for improvements to the Springs.”  The development would also include a restaurant and a Native American museum. 

Following due diligence, the developers revised their proposal to no longer take on the operation of the springs, citing rising costs for insurance and staffing. Both parties came to the mutual decision that operations of the park should remain with the Parks & Recreation Department.

Warm Mineral Springs Park
Warm Mineral Springs Park

Warm Mineral Springs is the City of North Port’s only historic landmark. Its origins date back to pre-historic times. In 1959, the same year North Port was incorporated, the three buildings there were designed for the Florida Quadricentennial Celebration. The springs thrived as a tourist destination and put North Port on the map. 

Other ideas the commissioners raised at the meeting included a future vote on a referendum to earmark taxes toward the project. "The Alliance's [SAHP] plan isn't bad but involves a significant investment," said City of North Port vice mayor Phil Stokes. "We could do a bond referendum in early 2025. The springs has the ability to service debt. The springs could profit and pay for it over 30 years."

For updates, or to learn more, click here.

Show Comments