Imagining a new downtown Clearwater - 2019-11-26
After decades of decline, downtown Clearwater could be on the brink of re-inventing itself. Several promising signs of progress have popped up this month, positioning the city for significant steps forward in 2020 as a new mayor and a new city manager come on board. One of those significant steps is renewed communication between the city and the Church of Scientology, which is key to the long-term success of redevelopment of the downtown area largely controlled by the church and its followers.
As the Tampa Bay Times' Tracey McManus and Kirby Wilson reported Tuesday, Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige met privately this month with three top city officials. It was the first face-to-face meeting between city government and Scientology in nearly three years. Decades of dealing with the church have taught the community to be cautious and skeptical. But an open line of communication is better than a cold war.
Of course, the Church of Scientology has not made it easy. A Times investigation published last month detailed how Scientology and its followers quietly acquired retail property at an unprecedented rate in the last three years and doubled their footprint. As the Times reported, many of the properties were not on the market and half of the sales were for more than double the value of the properties set by the county property appraiser. The land rush occurred as the church stopped communicating with the city after the City Council voted unanimously in 2017 to buy a downtown lot from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for less than one-third the amount offered by Scientology.