Clearwater City Council should stand up to Church of Scientology - 2017-04-19
This is a defining moment that tests the independence and courage of the Clearwater City Council and the leaders of one of the city's venerable institutions, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The Church of Scientology has pressured them to cancel the aquarium's sale to the city of a key downtown parcel by offering millions for the property, fancy downtown redevelopment plans and private meetings with Scientology leader David Miscavige. The choice is clear: Stand up to the intimidation and complete the land sale — or surrender and cede downtown to Scientology forever.
The City Council will vote Thursday night on a $4.25 million contract with the aquarium to buy the 1.4 acre vacant lot adjacent to City Hall along the downtown bluff. The aquarium bought the property as part of a plan to combine it with the City Hall property and build a new aquarium that could have been the cornerstone for a revitalized downtown. Voters took a reasonable leap of faith and approved the deal, but it ultimately did not work out and the aquarium has agreed to sell the unneeded parcel to the city.
Scientology, of course, won't take no for an answer. It has upped its offer to the aquarium for the land next to its 13-story Oak Cove retreat from $12.5 million to $15 million — more than three times the city's offer. Miscavige also has met with City Council members individually and held invitation-only meetings to pitch Scientology's plan to pay for a renovation of downtown Cleveland Street's facade, recruit retailers and fill storefronts. The unsubtle message: Let us buy the land, and Scientology will be your downtown savior.