BRADENTON -- A court case that has dragged on since 2007 involving the city of Bradenton suing Reflections of Manatee ended Wednesday to the benefit of Mineral Springs Park, which will double in size.
According to court documents, the city listed as surplus land in the 300 block of 14th Street East and south of Second Avenue East in the late 1990s. Reflections of Manatee wanted to preserve the area for historical educational purposes, so the city sold the property for $1. However, more land was deeded than what was intended. The city discovered the error in 2003 and filed suit in 2007 in attempt to regain the land.
On Nov. 23, the city and Reflections entered into mediation that gives the land back to the city with stipulations that the properties be dedicated as an expansion of Mineral Springs Park. Conditions of the mediation agreement include that Reflections has input into the park's development and that any disturbances to the ground at more than 12 inches during development be monitored by Reflections for archeological purposes.
Ward 4 City Councilman Bemis Smith saw the ongoing lawsuit as an opportunity to bring more focus to the city's "real historical area," after a publicly contentious period involving the development of Villages at Riverwalk and the relocation of Glazier-Gates Park, which the city approved in October. The approval came with a stipulation by Smith that the developer pay an additional $500,000 for improvements at Mineral Springs Park and ensure connectivity from the park to the eventual eastern expansion of Riverwalk.
Smith said the mediation agreement and new partnership with Reflections "will make a substantial expansion of Mineral Springs Park. We look forward to working with that body in making it a successful park. In reality, this park is the historic park in Manatee County."
Smith said it's an opportunity to ease any ill will remaining from the city's action to relocate Glazier-Gates Park.
"Considering the debate in the way we are trying to improve Glazier-Gates Park by moving it to the north along the river, I'm hoping this will mitigate some of the change that is going on over there," with the future development of the 521-unit Villages at Riverwalk rental complex.
The city has maintained that Glaizer-Gates, while an old city park, was not the real historical area. Smith's move to ensure additional funding for Mineral Springs, as well as helping coordinate the mediation efforts, will move Mineral Springs Park into a bigger, better and more protected future. Smith said the city will begin working on what the park will look like after the first of the year.
Sherry Svekis, Reflections vice president, praised Smith for bringing an eight-year battle to a mutually satisfying conclusion.
"People may ask why we fought the city for eight years only to give the land back," said Svekis. "We fought the city for eight years because our goal always was to ensure this area is protected and that's what this agreement does. I give full credit to Bemis Smith for helping to make this happen. We met with him last summer and he came up with some great ideas."
Svekis said Reflections has wanted to do a lot with the property but has had limited resources. Svekis said a priority is to remove the concrete cap atop the historic spring and turn it into some kind of water feature.
"This has been a very complex issue with difficult conversations," said Mayor Wayne Poston. "Bemis did a yeoman's job with this. This will be a good northern terminus of Riverwalk and something we can all be proud of."
Svekis said the mediation agreement isn't an admission that Reflections did anything wrong in holding onto the land despite the city's claims it made a mistake in the deed. It's the outcome that is most important.
"We're very pleased with it because of what we achieved out of the agreement," she said. "The property will be protected and designated a public park in perpetuity and we have been assured that the designation cannot be reversed. That's why we acquired the land to begin with and now we can work with the city to really develop the park into a real community asset and raise the significance of the site."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.