Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Scientologists, city of Clearwater discuss possible land swaps

CLEARWATER — After months of discord leading up to a landmark Scientology event, city and church officials have recently discussed potential common ground: swapping some properties.

Both sides have needs. And both own property the other covets.

The city wants land for a parking garage to accommodate visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's planned downtown facility and the newly reopened Capitol Theatre.

The church reportedly wishes to consolidate property near its newly-christened Flag Building and a vacant lot where it plans to build a concert or event hall. A 150,000-square-foot tent is on that vacant lot now and recently hosted a series of church celebrations.

One property in particular could be a key piece of any deal.

In September, the church bought a chunk of prime real estate worth more than $3 million on the city's "Super Block," across Osceola Avenue from the Main Library. Aquarium and city officials had been eyeing that property for the new parking garage.

They are still interested in that site and include it among several possibilities for garage construction.

One of those other spots could be a vacant, aquarium-owned lot between City Hall and the Scientology-owned Oak Cove condo tower.

A couple of years ago, CMA beat the church to the punch in purchasing that lot. Some observers think it is the most enticing parcel to the church in any land swap.

The Church of Scientology also is interested in some city-owned parcels, said City Manager Bill Horne, including the fire marshal's office on the corner of Garden Avenue and Franklin Street, directly behind the Flag Building, and some surface parking on the northeast corner of Court Street and S Fort Harrison Avenue near the planned concert hall.

The church initiated a meeting with city officials just before Christmas to discuss exchanging those two properties for a property it owns just south of the Hess gas station at the intersection of Fort Harrison and Chestnut Street, Horne said.

The city doesn't have any interest in that property, Horne said, but other properties around downtown are in play.

Before Christmas, Horne, City Attorney Pam Akin and Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin met with attorney Ed Armstrong and church representative Ben Shaw for about an hour to talk informally about a possible deal.

Nothing was decided and another meeting hasn't been scheduled, Horne said, adding that it is very early in the process.

"We're not in the negotiating phase yet," Horne said.

Armstrong and church representatives declined comment.

Mayor George Cretekos has said he wants the city to reset relations with the church, especially after a rancorous period last year when the church illegally cut down trees in August to accommodate its massive three-story tent. In November, the city found that a wrap placed on the tent violated the city sign ordinance.

"Any time we can sit and talk with them, that would be great. We need to understand where they want to go. They need to understand where we want to go," Cretekos said. "We really don't have any idea of what the church's plans are now that they have the Flag Building open. It's important to us to get a better understanding of their long-term plans."

So far, the church hasn't shown much interest in parting with the Super Block property and has kept mum about its future plans for the land.

"We don't know what their intent is. They may have some use in mind that we're not aware of," Cretekos said.

The city and aquarium want to secure a parking garage site by early spring if possible. The issue will have to be resolved, Horne said, before the city signs a lease on its City Hall property for construction of the new waterfront aquarium.

The aquarium wasn't directly involved in the December meeting with the church, CEO David Yates said.

"We're wide open to thoughts and suggestions," Yates said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Middleton High student arrested after making threats about shooting, officials say

Middleton High student arrested after making threats about shooting, officials say

TAMPA — A 15-year-old male Middleton High School student has been arrested after threatening to carry out a shooting at the school, according to the police and the school district.The student, who had been suspended, returned to the school yesterday ...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election charged an attorney Tuesday with lying to federal investigators about his interactions with a former Trump campaign official. A charging document filed in federa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Mayors in Florida face fines of $5,000 if they enact stricter rules on gun control; Bucs release running back Doug Martin; and more

Top 5 at noon: Mayors in Florida face fines of $5,000 if they enact stricter rules on gun control; Bucs release running back Doug Martin; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.MAYORS IN FLORIDA FACE FINES OF $5,000 IF THEY ENACT STRICTER RULES ON GUN CONTROLSouth Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard may be one of the most liberal mayors in Florida, so he would be a natural ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Schools, Tampa police warn against ‘misleading’ school security reports

Schools, Tampa police warn against ‘misleading’ school security reports

TAMPA — During a news conference Tuesday morning, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan warned against misleading investigators with reports about school security."Spread the word," the school said in a t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Video released of suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

Video released of suspect in sexual assault of Pasco woman, 71

NEW PORT RICHEY— Pasco County deputies have released surveillance video of a suspect in the home invasion and rape of a 71-year-old woman on Monday morning.On Monday, deputies said a woman was checking on a home at 7437 Heather St. for the homeowner ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Yes, we have some bananas: Port Tampa Bay welcomes first shipment in 21 years

Yes, we have some bananas: Port Tampa Bay welcomes first shipment in 21 years

TAMPA — More than two decades after the last bunch arrived on shore, bananas are back at Tampa’s port. More than 3,900 pallets of Chiquita bananas from Ecuador arrived last week at the new Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse.It was the fir...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Parkland students going to Tallahassee to push for gun law changes

Parkland students going to Tallahassee to push for gun law changes

PARKLAND — A hundred Stoneman Douglas High School students are busing 400 miles to Florida’s capital Tuesday to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week. The students plan to hold a rally...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘I would take a bullet for the kids’; Teachers struggle with life-and-death realities after school shooting

‘I would take a bullet for the kids’; Teachers struggle with life-and-death realities after school shooting

TAMARAC — The shooting was all over, but the emotional reckoning had just begun, and so on Saturday the teachers of Broward County in Florida packed their union hall to discuss what it meant to have become the nation’s human shields."Last night I tol...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new "Trump Dating" website.News outlets reported Monday that visitors to the dating site geared toward suppor...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Pasco Briefs for Feb. 23

COUNTYWIDETrail to close for repairs, resurfacingPart of the Suncoast Trail, between State Road 52 and State Road 54, will be closed Feb. 27 through March 9 for repairs and resurfacing. The project is part of Pasco County Parks, Recreation and Natura...
Updated: 2 hours ago