Recapture your youth at Warm Mineral Springs!
City signs off on extended summer hours!
Revenue and attendance at Warm Mineral Springs have increased since the city became sole owner, but some patrons feel the attraction is not living up to its potential.
Robbie Rose, who has been coming to Florida’s only warm water mineral spring for more than 20 years, is impatient that amenities such as a spa and restaurant have not reopened. “We have a lot of places to swim for free,” said Rose, 53, of Sarasota. “But you pay $20 to swim here for the health benefits.” Canadian newcomer Julie Cormier, 42, said she’d like to see the facility rent towels and flotation devices and add classes, such as outdoor yoga and painting. City leaders say they are listening to patrons’ concerns and are committed to improvements.
At a meeting Thursday morning, city commissioners approved extended hours from June 1-Aug. 31 and price breaks for county residents. For $6 or less, depending on age, county residents can gain evening admission, likely from 5:30 until 8 p.m. Those living outside Sarasota County will pay as much as $8, depending on their age. City estimates show the cost to keep the springs open those extra hours could be close to $48,000, or about 87 paid adult admissions per day, North Port’s General Services Director Robin Carmichael said. The summer-long pilot program will help North Port collect data to determine if extended hours are worthwhile. “Depending on how well this is received will decide whether they do it next summer,” Carmichael said.
Beginning in October, the start of the new fiscal year, the price of an annual admission pass for Sarasota County residents will drop from $1,500 to $1,125, what North Port city residents pay. All children age 5 or younger will get free admission. A new pass — which will allow residents to visit the springs 30 times in a year — will be sold to Sarasota County adults for $150 and other adults for $200. As for the Warm Mineral Springs on-site day spa, Carmichael said it will be reopened after the building’s carpet is reinstalled next week. At first, only professional massages will be offered, but there is potential to expand services. However, it will likely be much longer before a restaurant opens at the springs, Carmichael said. Bringing the building up to code will be expensive, and the city just received a historical and architectural evaluation of the buildings.
North Port bought Sarasota County’s half-ownership of the 81-acre Warm Mineral Springs property for $2.75 million on Sept. 26, 2014. Soon after, city staff determined an evaluation of the facilities was necessary. DMK Associates Inc., a civil engineering firm based in Venice and Englewood, was contracted to complete the task and submitted the evaluation last week. According to the evaluation, consultants believe the Warm Mineral Springs buildings, which include the round Cyclorama, are historically and architecturally significant, should be retained and are potentially eligible for listing within the National Registry of Historic Places. The buildings were constructed in the late 1950s for the Florida Quadricentennial and exemplify the midcentury modern architecture style, the evaluation states. Jack West, a member of the Sarasota School of Architecture, is believed to be their architect. Now city commissioners must decide how they want to move forward rehabbing the buildings at Warm Mineral Springs, which Carmichael said are in need of significant repair. At this time, no estimate on the cost of the rehabilitation has been calculated. “We’re going to need to do extensive rewiring, plumbing, look at the roof systems as well as the portions of the slab,” she said. “Those are the things we know at this point that have to be addressed. Once we start making those repairs it wouldn’t be uncommon that we run into other issues that need to be addressed.” A bright spot: Revenue and attendance are ahead of last year. Revenue increased 10.2 percent to $754,768 compared to a similar seven-month-long period during the last fiscal year. Attendance during that same period rose from 18,854 to 22,221, an increase of close to 18 percent. As of April 30, the city’s Warm Mineral Springs fund had almost $840,000 in it. That’s important, Carmichael said, because earlier this week city commissioners voted to spend $200,000 to install a wastewater service line at Warm Mineral Springs because of the failing drain field.
Two other projects will affect Warm Mineral Springs’ future.
The United States Geological Survey was scheduled to present an investigative summary on the Warm Mineral Springs’ water quality in February. The federal scientific agency presentation was pushed back to July. And the status of a proposed medical tourism site adjacent to the springs is also uncertain. Last year city commissioners approved zoning and other steps to allow New York City Dr. Grigory Pogrebinsky to build on 16 acres he owns. But Pogrebinsky, a pain management physician, has not submitted plans to the city, and a “For Sale” sign sits on the property.
This week, Pogrebinsky provided few details on where the project stands. “We are involved in confidential discussions with potential partners and developers,” he wrote in an email. “… we are pleased with the City of North Port’s continued support, and hope that the City would push for expediting the United States Geological Survey’s final report and for upgrading the Springs’ facilities.”
Warm Mineral Springs is located on US-41 (the Tamiami Trail) in Northport about 12 miles southeast of Venice. It’s an old Florida tourist attraction that often gets overlooked by modern visitors dazzled by the glamor and activity of the larger theme parks. Still, 65,000 visitors – many from Europe – come to soak in the mineral waters every year. Most of them would like to keep this great little place a secret. This natural spring is replenished daily by 9 million gallons of water at a temperature of 87 degrees. The spring waters are claimed to contain 51 different minerals, the highest mineral content of any spring in the United States. Many repeat visitors claim these waters restore their health and make them feel better. They claim relief for everything from arthritis to the heartbreak of psoriasis. There is plenty of room to swim in the spring or just relax and soak. Many people claim that Warm Mineral Springs is really the Fountain of Youth that Juan Ponce de Leon was searching for when he first landed in Florida. On his last rip he was still searching for the mythical fountain when he and 200 of his people landed on Charlotte Harbor south modern day Northport and Venice in 1521. Not long after they landed they were attacked by local Indians. Ponce was badly wounded and his ships took him back to Cuba where he died in July of 1521. He did not live long enough to try the restorative waters of Warm Mineral Springs. Maybe he could have survived and still be alive today to tell us about his miracle Fountain of Youth.
Diving Warm Mineral, Noticeably unique during the descent is the amount of bacteria covering every inch of the sink. Dropping to 20 feet, we place our oxygen cylinders on the pre-made PVC decompression rack, which is attached to the wall from 10 down to 40 feet. Just off the deco rack is a down line that takes us under the 70-foot lip where we attach our nitrox 50 percent for decompression from the 70 to 30 foot stops. Descending, we follow the wall as it undercuts sharply down into the darkness. At a depth of 175 feet, we hit a reverse thermocline and the water temperature instantly goes from 84 to 97 degrees, with the visibility increasing to over 80 feet. Reaching the bottom at 205 feet, hot water can be seen flowing from several small vents along the walls.
Turning to the right, we quickly come upon the main cave system connected to the sink. Most of the water flows from this system. The entrance to the cave is just large enough to squeeze though with a set of doubles. Extreme caution must be taken to not disturb the thick silt on the floor. There the small cave makes a sharp turn to the left. After 150 feet of back-to-belly passage, the cave opens into a room where multiple smaller vents flow. This room is 25 feet long, 10 feet tall, and 10 feet wide with white chalky walls and a maximum depth of 223 feet.