The Church of Scientology is reportedly taking over prime retail space in downtown Clearwater — with plans to renovate and redesign the area.
The controversial church already owns property in a section of Clearwater, Florida, and purchased more than $26 million in downtown real estate during January and February alone, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The organization owns more than $200 million in property there, ABC Action News noted.
“The church owns a 10 square mile chunk of the city, with nearly 70 buildings worth some $500 million.”
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Scientology leader David Miscavige reportedly met privately with Clearwater City Council members to discuss a plan that would recruit business owners. Actor Tom Cruise reportedly is helping with the development plans.
“It’s my intent to encourage them to release that plan as soon as they can and to be as transparent because this, really, has to be a partnership,” said Bill Jonson, Clearwater’s vice mayor and city council member.
The Church of Scientology established itself in Clearwater in 1975, and in November 2013 opened a massive new headquarters building in Clearwater. The “Super Powers” building — worth $145 million — takes up an entire city block and is used for spiritual retreats and religious services, among other activities.
“The church owns a 10 square mile chunk of the city, with nearly 70 buildings worth some $500 million, and approximately 8 percent of Clearwater’s population (just under 110,000 people) is said to be made up of Scientologists,” the New York Post’s Page Six noted in December.
Cruise, 54, has been known for decades for his connections to Scientology; he recently purchased a reported $3 million penthouse two blocks from its Clearwater headquarters.
“Clearwater is the only place to go for the highest level Scientology courses,” Page Six noted. “Priced as much as $800 per hour and requiring up to 90 hours per level, these classes get adherents to various stages” in Scientology. Members of Scientology believe they can achieve greater success, well-being, and “superhuman powers” in life by getting to higher levels in the Scientology spiritual practice.
The Tampa Bay Times noted that Miscavige, 56, “told council members his plan to bring in big-name retail stores to empty storefronts is based on cooperation with existing downtown property owners,” and that “of the roughly 40 storefronts along Cleveland Street between Osceola and Myrtle avenues, at least half are owned by the church, its parishioners or owners who rent to Scientology-owned businesses.”
That’s according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis.
Miscavige’s family joined Scientology in 1971. He landed at the Clearwater Scientology campus when he was 16 years old, when Miscavige started working with the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, Business Insider reported. After Hubbard’s death in 1986, Miscavige took over as leader of the church.
Members of the Clearwater City Council, who met Tuesday with Miscavige, shared details of the church’s huge plans for the city.
“For two decades, the city has tried to revitalize downtown by hiring consultants, designing redevelopment plans and marketing to businesses,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
It’s unclear what the next steps of the process will be.
“We have to try something,” City Manager Bill Horne said. “We haven’t been successful on our own. The private sector has not been successful. Maybe we’re in a situation where the only way we get that investment is if the church brings it.”
Miscavige’s plan includes the potential of buying a large lot adjacent to the Scientology headquarters.
“Council members said Miscavige showed a video of a swimming pool, playground, garden and possibly another hotel on the [Clearwater Marine] aquarium lot for parishioners, not the public,” the Tampa Bay Times noted.
The council may vote soon on whether or not the city buys a 1.4-acre lot owned by the aquarium.
“I think what’s driving them is to benefit their parishioners, but I think [Miscavige] understands that he is part of a community of Clearwater,” Mayor George Cretekos said. “What we do has to benefit the entire community and our visitors.”
The Church of Scientology owns real estate elsewhere across the country as well. In Hollywood, for example, the church owns a significant number of historic buildings.