Wednesday, September 19, 2018
News Roundup

A look at what's inside Scientology's long-delayed Flag Building

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology has purchased and remodeled dozens of buildings since it established its spiritual headquarters here 37 years ago. This weekend, it will open yet another.

But this one — a seven-story behemoth with more than 300,000 square feet — is being touted by the church as a game changer.

On the fifth floor, Scientology will make available to its members for the first time a "Super Power'' program developed in the 1970s by church founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard called Super Power one of his greatest discoveries. He said Scientologists would develop special abilities, enabling them to reverse social decay and "create a new world.''

The church kept details of the program under wraps until it could build a proper venue to deliver it. Now, after 15 years of on-and-off construction — and controversy — the building finally is finished.

Scientology says it's the most important project in its 59-year history. And indications are it will represent another important first for the church in Clearwater.

Recruiting new followers will be emphasized, it appears from a Tampa Bay Times review of church publications, internal memoranda and construction plans submitted to the city.

Proselytizing has been a common activity at Scientology's other churches, including its prominent facility in Ybor City. The Clearwater campus, Scientology's spiritual center, has focused on delivering services, not recruiting newcomers.

But much of the new building's ground floor appears designed to do just that. The primary public entry, on the northwest corner, opens into a "grand lobby,'' a three-story atrium with statuary and other exhibits depicting Scientology beliefs and practices.

A visitor then would move toward the center of the building, into a large area with more displays, films and promotional presentations. Clustered in circles in a museum-like setting, these displays appear to explain associated Scientology organizations and the social efforts Scientologists support.

The church has said little about the building's features, apart from Super Power. Church officials did not respond to Times requests to tour the building and ask questions about its uses, but even most Scientologists will not have seen it before a ribbon cutting Sunday afternoon.

As many as 10,000 church members are expected to attend the private event, as well as two other nighttime gatherings today and Saturday in a huge tent erected by the church just south of the new building. The church has not announced the purpose of the evening events.

The building's seven floors present widely divergent uses.

In the basement — a rarity in Florida — are huge kitchen and dining areas. The second and third floors contain offices and Scientology course rooms for training. The upper floors have more than 300 small rooms for "auditing," Scientology's core counseling practice. An auditing session usually lasts about an hour and can cost $1,000.

Large spaces on floor five are dedicated to the Super Power program, a series of 12 "rundowns'' that combine auditing with drills involving machines.

Participants will be spun on a gyroscope-like wheel, spend time in a sound chamber, sniff vials emitting fragrances, experience changes in gravitational pull. The aim: sharpen what Hubbard called man's 57 "perceptics'' — sight, smell, taste, touch, blood circulation, depth perception, solidity, awareness of awareness.

On the sixth floor is another intriguing feature: a circular running track, its radius: 74 feet. Scientologists will go around it until they have a personal moment of enlightenment called a cognition. Hubbard called this the "Cause Resurgence Rundown.''

The church has not said whether it plans to invite the public to tour the structure, known as the "Flag Building," now the centerpiece of the church's Flag Land Base in Clearwater.

Construction plans at City Hall suggest the church filled the building with rich amenities and high-grade materials, as is its custom with other projects.

Despite that luster, the building will debut Sunday amid considerable controversy. Much of it centers on allegations that the church purposely delayed construction to keep alive the building's fundraising drive.

The church started raising money for the Super Power complex six years before construction began in 1998. After the shell was completed, the church halted work. It said little as to why.

After three years of inactivity, the city started imposing a $250-a-day fine for code violations. But the church didn't resume work for three more years.

In 2011, the church indicated the building was nearly complete. It paid the city a cumulative fine of $413,500 and got a certificate of occupancy.

Church spokeswoman Karin Pouw told the Times then that church leaders had stalled construction because they had underestimated how fast Scientology was growing and needed to replan parts of the interior.

A Times analysis of the fund drive determined the Super Power campaign had brought in at least $145 million by 2011 — substantially more than the $100 million project cost often cited by the church.

In January, former Scientologists Rocio and Luis Garcia of Irvine, Calif., filed a fraud lawsuit against the church in federal court in Tampa, alleging the church prolonged the project "as a shill'' to continue raising money.

The Garcias contributed more than $340,000 to Super Power before leaving the church in 2011. The church has called their suit frivolous.

In May, members of Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov's staff toured the Flag Building and confirmed all floors will be used for religious, tax-exempt purposes.

The church had paid taxes on the property during years of stop and go construction. And Scientology pays property taxes on portions of some of its other holdings — spaces such as hotel rooms and restaurants used for commercial, non-religious purposes.

This newest building, valued by Dubov's office at $84 million, is fully off the property tax rolls.

Comments
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

By Daniel RuthTimes ColumnistThis has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. ...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
Last week of summer continues typical forecast of hot, humid weather across Tampa Bay

Last week of summer continues typical forecast of hot, humid weather across Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay trudges through a week of hot and humid weather with more afternoon showers, and Wednesday’s forecast indicates much of the same. While Tampa Bay appears to have a wet weekend ahead, a change in air flow will push back the timing of the sto...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

WASHINGTON — While Hurricane Florence barreled through the Carolinas, a different type of storm was brewing within the federal disaster relief agency tasked with responding to the fallout.The fate of Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergen...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Hockey News poll: Lightning favored to win Stanley Cup, other awards

Falling just short of winning a championship the past few seasons has done nothing to erode fans' confidence in the Lightning.Not just locally, but also nationally and across Canada.The Lightning is the runaway favorite to win the Stanley C...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

Valet parking? A concierge? Midtown Tampa outlines plans for an amenity-rich office building

TAMPA — A sudden boomlet in premium office space is getting boomier as developers detail their plans for the first of three office buildings planned at Midtown Tampa, a $500 million mixed-use development near Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway.M...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Daystarter: Another problem for Jameis Winston; selling Hillsborough’s proposed school tax; milestone win for Blake Snell

The Daystarter: Another problem for Jameis Winston; selling Hillsborough’s proposed school tax; milestone win for Blake Snell

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• It’ll be a sunny morning but the clouds will gather by the afternoon. The change of rain also increases to 30 to 50 percent in the afternoon and into the evening, according to the Nat...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Blake Snell wins major-league-leading 20th in 4-0 win over Rangers

Blake Snell wins major-league-leading 20th in 4-0 win over Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — One of the things that has made Blake Snell so good this season for the Rays is his refusal to be satisfied with anything he does.No matter how well he pitches, he finds flaws in his performance and identifies something ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

Lightning journal: Alex Killorn’s just puttin’ on the Fitz

TAMPA — How big is FitzMagic? It has hit the Lightning, too.Proving that Harvard guys stick together, Lightning forward Alex Killorn showed support for fellow Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick by, sort of, dressing up the way Fitzpatrick did after ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Tuesday’s Rays-Rangers game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Tuesday’s Rays-Rangers game

LHP Blake Snell certainly gets the bulk of the credit for his remarkable season, and there's definitely some due to pitching coach Kyle Snyder. But don't ignore C Jesus Sucre, who Snell likes throwing to and has been both a good target and a calming ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Epilogue: Robert Judson Jr., a pioneer in Pasco-Hernando education

Epilogue: Robert Judson Jr., a pioneer in Pasco-Hernando education

Robert Judson Jr. was known simply as "The Voice.""He had a magnetic voice, made for radio, made for television," said Tim Beard, president of Pasco-Hernando State College, a position Mr. Judson held from 1994 to 2005."To hear him talk was like, ‘Wow...
Published: 09/19/18