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Warm Mineral Springs Closes - Shame

Warm Mineral Springs, June 27, 2013. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias
Warm Mineral Springs, June 27, 2013. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

She squints at my driver’s license, leaning in to read the address. Sarasota County residents get $5 off admission to Warm Mineral Springs, a national treasure located in North Port, which just happens to be part of Sarasota County. Yep. Resident. I get a break.

Handing her money, the cashier gives me change. Then I take a deep breath and ask THE QUESTION:

“Will you lose your job?”

Her lower lip trembles. She hugs herself, wrapping her arms around her waist and nods.

She is not alone.  Warm Mineral Springs closes at 5 p.m. on Sunday June 30, 2913.  General Manager Gene Vaccaro says 60 people including fulltime, part time and  temporary employees, will be out of jobs. A $700,000 annual payroll is history.

On Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30 there is an emergency sale. Everything goes. Bring cash and a truck. Equipment, supplies, furniture, tools, décor, shelving and inventory – out the door. The only thing left will be the water in the springs.

If and when a new vendor is finally chosen, a press release by Vaccaro estimates the expense of permits, furnishings, repairs and insurance will top $300,000. And that to the payroll lost and this is a one million dollar fiasco.

And the ripple effect has started – Roger Herber, manager of Warm Mineral Springs Motel in North Port, is on the phone calling everyone who made hotel reservations to tell them the springs are closing.

“You’re from New York, you’re coming down for a week, you always go to the springs, now what are you going to do? Yes, our business will go down,” says Herber.

How did this disaster happen? For the past 30 months Sarasota County and the City of North Port has jointly owned Warm Mineral Springs. It is a marriage begging for a divorce.

Sarasota County has made all the right moves. North Port commissioners, on the other hand, refuse to play nice with anyone. The North Port City Manager wants Warm Mineral Springs, currently run on a daily basis by a vendor whose contract expires June 30, to be a city park. North Port commissioners don’t want anything to do with the springs and want to sell it – but not to Sarasota County whose offer to buy their share was denied. North Port refused to join Sarasota County in putting out a bid for proposals to run the park. So, the doors close.

On Monday, June 24, North Port commissioners agreed to offer a short term lease to a company, as yet unnamed, to run the springs. It is too little, too late.

Perhaps they were cowed by all the protestors with signs saying “SAVE OUR SPRINGS”- perhaps at the next meeting, with the springs closed, the signs might read “RECALL ALL COMMISSIONERS AND THE CITY MANAGER”.

What can you do now? Well, if you’ve never been to the springs, put it on your bucket list then buckle up and start E  mailing commissioners.

Find the North Port commissioners here

They need to hear from people who now will NOT be spending time and money in North Port. Oh, and Vaccaro made a good observation: “We’ve served over 191,000 people but they are they ‘silent majority’, they had a great experience but don’t tell commissioners.”

Guilty. I wrote a Warm Mineral Springs story for Saturday Morning magazine without ever considering sending it to the two sets of commissioners.

Find the Sarasota County commissioners here

Tell them your story. Let them know how important Warm Mineral Springs is to you.

On Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 5 p.m. the soft music stops.

Laughing children in the shallow end are here no more.

All the Slavic languages you heard while bobbing around will go silent. They are here no more.

Mother Earth is greatly upset.

Shame. Shame. Shame.

- See more at: http://www.lucytobias.com/2013/06/27/warm-mineral-springs-closes-on-sunday/#sthash.1ZE1brES.dpuf
gene pollux June 29, 2013 at 02:45 PM
OPEN LETTER TO THE NORTH PORT CITY COMMISSION: Your collective failure to do what is right in order to keep Warm Mineral Springs open and and give it the opportunity to be the asset to the community it should be is shameful and demonstrates your staggering incompetence. While I am a resident of Sarasota county it angers me greatly to know that because of your ineptitude we are no longer able to visit these Springs. Knowing that you have had EVERY opportunity to avoid this, having recieved numerous offers and options to keep the Warm Mineral Springs open, perhaps even operate at a profit. Everyone loses on this one only because you obviously lack the ability to do what needs doing. Considering the significant loss of revenue this causes, and your obvious des-interest in Warm Mineral Springs which has been a major destination for several generations of visitors and plays a significant role in the appeal of the area, I truly question your ability to govern since the amount of harm your actions caused is beyond your comprehension, clearly. Makes me wonder - what is in it for you - why fail in such an epic fashion? One can only hope come next elections the voters will remember.
Dawn Hale June 29, 2013 at 10:06 PM
I side with North Port on this one. My family has to travel to states like North Carolina to enjoy FREE outdoor fun. In Florida, we nickle and dime you for everything. Ironically my husband and I were just down in North Port last weekend. We drove past the turn off for the springs and I commented how sad it was that I had never been and that I never had an interest to go because it would cost my husband and I over $100 as a family of 6 to go. I can go to waterfalls, jump cliffs, walk through rivers, hike mountains and swim in the most beautiful desolate areas of the south all day for FREE but NOT in Florida. We find the same issues with all of the springs in this state. It's just ridiculous. A city park would be so wonderful. Of course I know there would be a fee for that as well...but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be over $100 for not only the drive down from SRQ but also just to get into the gate. If I want to pay a lot of money for fun, I go to Tampa or Orlando to a theme park. Nature should not cost that much!
Mary Nicolini, LCSW, LCAP June 30, 2013 at 12:06 AM
It sounds like there was a lot of egos that got in the way of the deal. Sarasota offered to buy it. If North Port can't support it or does not want to and Sarasota is offering to buy it, sounds like a no brainer. I think if something is not done by June 30th, we may find that to be the next night time teenage hangout. It is sad for all the commissioners involved. Your lack of basic rules of engagement; concessions and compromise got in the way of the fact that you don't want to maintain the property but want a piece of the proceeds.
Gid Pool July 01, 2013 at 12:24 AM
To Dawn Hale. $100 for a family of SIX is $16.66 per person for a day of fun. Really...you think that's too much? It would seem you've not been to Disney, Sea World, Universal, or any number of attractions. The three commissioners that have brought about the closing of WMS have made it very clear. The size of the project is way beyond their scope of abilities. They brought this thing to its knees. None of the "Trio of Inabilities" wanted WMS saved, via a purchase. Their goal was to see it closed. And, sadly, they have their wish. Mary: I don't think it was egos, as much as the "Trio" and their unwillingness to work with SRQ county.
Dawn Hale July 01, 2013 at 01:09 AM
I certainly understand everyone's bitterness and Yes, of course I have been to Disney and all of the other parks. The issue I have is that Nature shouldn't be that expensive. Additionally the cost for 6 would be OVER $100 not including Gas for me to get back and forth. 2 of my children are over 12 and one is 12 which leaves only one as a child. That means $20 per adult= $100 and one child fee +gas to get there for a natural spring. I feel it's a terrible shame that all of the Natural springs in this state cost so much money to enjoy and are all treated like a Disney or Busch Gardens with regards to fees. The issue I have is that in other states I have lived in, I have Never had to pay to play in waterfalls, springs and other hidden gems. Again, I understand everyone's issue with the park closing and I certainly do not wish that for anyone who enjoys going there...or that might want to go there some day. I get both sides, I'm just stating that my OPINION is that the GREED that has come out of this is ridiculous. I PERSONALLY (and am entitled to have my opinion) believe that North Port should have a say in how this goes down and that it should be more on their terms since that is the immediate city that will be affected.
gene pollux July 01, 2013 at 08:50 AM
Dawn, you are totally incorrect and your statements are way off base - what happened here has NOTHING to do with whatever you see as some wallstreet owned multinational charging a small fortune for a "day of fun"..... Apparently you have not visited any of our many AWARD WINNING state parks which include numerous springs? Then you'd know a car load is something like $5.00, far from breaking any bank. (And really fail to see how adding in what you spend on gas should be any concern regarding Warm Mineral Springs...) Other PRIVATELY owned springs may charge more, which is their right, seeing as we live in a capitalist society - but again, that is not the issue . This is about a local gem being shut down purely due to elected officials' utter mismanagement of resources.
Curt Bowen July 03, 2013 at 09:38 PM
As one of the only divers on this planet who has explored and documented almost every underwater inch of Warm Mineral Springs, providing important data free of charge, I feel the inaction of the City to cooperate with the County utterly unacceptable. To knowingly and willingly close the only North Port tourist attraction and all the millions of dollars in revenue it produces is no less than criminal. Their inability to work with the County has put over 60 employees on the streets without a job in an already stressed economy. But this is not the last slap in the face the citizens of North Port will receive. The next step in preventing access to gods gift will be the installation of a chain link barbed wire fence circling the spring itself. Many of the elderly patrons of Warm Mineral moved to North Port from European countries such as Russia, Poland, and Germany to name a few specifically for the healing waters of Warm Mineral. This will not be the first time they have witnessed the signs of oppression by the use of walls, fences, guards, and razor wire. The installation of this fence only indicates that the City and the County are no place closer now to operating this spring, than they were over two and a half years ago when they jointly purchased it. It is time for the people to stand and take action. The businesses of North Port and southern Sarasota County need to merge together and demand an immediate change. Warm Mineral Springs was purchased with taxpayer’s dollars. It does not belong to the City or County commissioners; it belongs to the people whom they took an oath to serve. www.warmmineral.com

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