For more than two years the Church of Scientology and the City of Clearwater have been jockeying back and forth on who should own a 1.4 acre parcel of land in Downtown Clearwater.
On Thursday, the city voted unanimously to purchase the land from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for $4.25 million dollars. Residents said this sends a message to the Church of Scientology that they can’t own every piece of property in Downtown Clearwater.
“The Scientologists don't need it they have plenty of property,” John Marlow said. “Downtown has never been anything it's always been, like one lady said before, a dead zone. If Scientologists take it over it will be all Scientologist people.”
The head of Scientology, David Miscavige, met last month one on one with city leaders in an effort to convince the city that the church’s vision for the redevelopment of Clearwater was the better option. Leading up the vote commissioners say the pressure from the church has increased as many parishioners threatened to vote against them in upcoming elections or boycott city functions.
According to Pinellas County property records, the Church of Scientology owns more than $200 million dollars worth of property. The church has been buying up property in Clearwater since 1975.
“I moved here in 1964,”Greg Art said. “Clearwater used to be vibrant. What happened? Scientology came in, that's why you have a downtown like this now. I don't want them to have all of it. Whatever we can do to save property in Clearwater we gotta save it.”
The land was so valuable to the church they offered as much as $15 million to purchase it. That is 3 times the assessed value. Despite their interest in the land no leaders from the Church of Scientology attended the meeting to speak out against the vote in favor.
The land is a crucial part of the city's $50 million waterfront redevelopment project. The Imagine Clearwater plan is an ambitious project to revitalize downtown bringing in retail, entertainment, and commercial space for a vibrant downtown.
Residents tonight say this is the first step in building a better Clearwater in the future.
“I think they should take back the city of Clearwater for us we the people,” Nermin Idkan said.
The church did not respond to requests to comment on the vote.