Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

No Good Reason for Springs' Closure

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

No Good Reason for Springs' Closure

Article excerpt

Two headlines in Thursday's edition of the Herald-Tribune reveal what amounts to a sad state of affairs in our area.

The first, "Hope springs eternal here," leads into a story about how visitors love Warm Mineral Springs. Reporter Thomas Becnel talked to regulars who swim, take classes, do yoga and bring their children to the 200-foot-deep, water-filled sinkhole/archaeological wonder in North Port. Hundreds come every day, seeking a mystical experience, pure relaxation or a relief to health problems in its mineral-laden waters.

The second headline, "Springs' closing is imminent," refers to the harsh reality that this popular attraction will be closed on July 1.

Say what?

In December 2010, when the governments of Sarasota County and North Port bought the springs for $5.5 million, one of the reasons prodding the purchase was to preserve public access.

At the time, the two governments agreed they did not want to manage the springs. They wanted someone else to do it under a long- term contract. That didn't appear to be any problem because the springs, contrary to most things the government touches, actually pays for itself, and makes a profit.

No one knows exactly how much, because it has always been under private ownership. However, the profit is great enough that the seller, Cypress Lending, insisted on retaining the rights to manage the property and reap the income for another two and half years. That allowed it to make up the difference between its asking price and what the county actually paid.

So all that the elected leadership of North Port and Sarasota County had to worry about was finding a more permanent management by July 1, 2013. Even with 30 months to do so, they failed.

This week, the county commissioners also seemed to reject the idea of keeping the springs open as little more than a swimming hole. That would cost about $17,000 a week, staff estimated, for 16 employees to handle groundskeeping, security, admissions and lifeguarding.

For now, let's accept the premise that the city and county have conflicting ideas about the ultimate future of the springs. The majority of the North Port Commission favors keeping the 81 acres as a glorified park. …

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