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Scientology bids to build in Clearwater as church seeks to tighten grip on Florida real estate


The Church of Scientology has submitted a proposal to build in downtown Clearwater as it seeks to tighten its grip on commercial real estate in Florida, it has been revealed.

The church, which already owned 58 properties in Clearwater as of 2019, was one of five developers to bid on a project to develop three city-owned parcels of waterfront land after city officials opened them up to bidding, according to a document released on Tuesday after bidding closed on Monday.

The other developers who bid are City Center Development LLC, Elevate Clearwater, Office America Group, and SROA Capital. 

The revelation comes as the Church of Scientology works to buy up commercial real estate in Clearwater, Florida – where the church is headquartered.

The document does not specify what the church wants to build in downtown Clearwater – where it already owns 49 other properties, the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2019. 

Since arriving in Pinellas County in 1975, the church has already snatched up at least 60 properties countywide in its name with 58 of them in the city of Clearwater, the outlet had reported. 

Clearwater, Florida officials announced that it was seeking bids for three waterfront properties downtown in January

On Tuesday, it was revealed in a public document that the Church of Scientology had bid to develop the properties

On Tuesday, it was revealed in a public document that the Church of Scientology had bid to develop the properties

Clearwater, Florida officials announced that it was seeking bids for three waterfront properties downtown in January

Clearwater, Florida officials announced that it was seeking bids for three waterfront properties downtown in January

The three lots include the 2.6-acre vacant City Hall on Pierce Street and neighboring 1.2-acre lot, which is also empty, left, as well as the 1.4-acre lot where the Harborview Center sat before it was demolished in February 2019, right

The three lots include the 2.6-acre vacant City Hall on Pierce Street and neighboring 1.2-acre lot, which is also empty, left, as well as the 1.4-acre lot where the Harborview Center sat before it was demolished in February 2019, right

A map shows property owned by the Church of Scientology in 2019 in downtown Clearwater

A map shows property owned by the Church of Scientology in 2019 in downtown Clearwater

Of the church’s properties, about 72% of them are tax exempt for religious purposes, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

‘The logical conclusion is Scientology must have some sort of a game plan in mind, but they’re not public with what it is,’ City Council member Hoyt Hamilton told the outlet in 2019. 

‘Typically, when people buy commercial real estate, they move forward with construction or redevelopment. That’s not happening with almost any of these properties.’ 

Other companies with ties to Scientology reportedly purchased 100 commercial properties ‘within walking distance of the downtown waterfront’ between 2017 and 2019.

‘The Church has acquired more than 70 buildings since 2004 in major population centers around the world,’ the church said on its website

‘The combined size of Church premises increased from nearly 5.6 million square feet in 2004 to 12.1 million square feet in 2010.’  

The church’s headquarters in Clearwater, called the Flag Building, is a massive seven-story, 377,000-square-foot complex that was the tallest building in the city when it opened in November 2013. It is also known as the Super Powers building.

The Church of Scientology's Flag Building, the centerpiece of a construction campaign for the church is seen on May 22, 2008 in Clearwater, Florida

The Church of Scientology’s Flag Building, the centerpiece of a construction campaign for the church is seen on May 22, 2008 in Clearwater, Florida

People arrive for the celebration of the opening of the new Scientology Flag Building on November 16, 2013 in Clearwater, Florida. Construction of the 377,000-square-foot center began in 1999 and cost more than $40 million dollars to complete

People arrive for the celebration of the opening of the new Scientology Flag Building on November 16, 2013 in Clearwater, Florida. Construction of the 377,000-square-foot center began in 1999 and cost more than $40 million dollars to complete

A Google Street View shows The Atrium office tower at 601 Cleveland St. in Clearwater which the church purchased in 2017, according to the Tampa Bay Times

A Google Street View shows The Atrium office tower at 601 Cleveland St. in Clearwater which the church purchased in 2017, according to the Tampa Bay Times

The church owns a variety of properties in Clearwater including a vacant auto garage at 715 Laura St., according to the Tampa Bay Times

The church owns a variety of properties in Clearwater including a vacant auto garage at 715 Laura St., according to the Tampa Bay Times

DailyMail.com has reached out to the city’s procurement manager, Lori Vogel, as well as the Church of Scientology for more information and additional comment.

Vogel told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that details of the plans submitted by any of the developers are exempt from public disclosure until May 12 or until one of them is chosen by city staff for recommendation for development.

In January, Clearwater and the Clearwater Redevelopment Agency announced that they would seek proposals to transform ‘three city-owned sites into vibrant mixed-use properties that will bring activity and regeneration to downtown.’ 

The three lots include the 2.6-acre vacant City Hall on Pierce Street and neighboring 1.2-acre lot, which is also empty. The city relocated City Hall functions to a nearby building and ‘is investigating the demolition of the existing structure,’ according to the request for proposals

A map shows plans for the redesign of a park in Clearwater, Florida near the three properties

A map shows plans for the redesign of a park in Clearwater, Florida near the three properties

Renderings of the park are seen as the city works to redevelop its downtown area

Renderings of the park are seen as the city works to redevelop its downtown area

It also includes a 1.4-acre lot where the Harborview Center sat before it was demolished in February 2019. That lot sits at the corner of Cleveland Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, and Osceola Avenue.

The three sites are part of Imagine Clearwater – the city’s $64million master plan to redevelop Coachman Park and the area bordering 22-acres of waterfront owned by the city, according to city documents

The plan includes $15-million, 4,000-seat covered amphitheater as well as a park with ‘a garden, playground, greenspace, trail and gateway plaza.’

Two of the parcels, the City Hall site and the Harborview Center site, would require a referendum for voter approval  – which officials have planed for March 2022, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

City Manager Bill Horne told the Tampa Bay Times in 2019 that church leaders ‘articulate that they want to see a vibrant downtown.’

‘However, it hasn’t always been clear to me as to just what does that actually mean,’ he said.

Tom De Vocht, a former Scientology executive who oversaw the church’s property in Clearwater from 1996 to 2001, told the outlet that the church has ‘one intention, and one intention only.’

‘Buy up as much property as they can for the church — whether they use it or not, whether they let it sit there and rot — so no one else can be there,’ he told the outlet.



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