The Church of Scientology established its "Flag Land Base" on Dec. 1, 1975, buying Clearwater's historic Fort Harrison Hotel and a handful of other properties under an assumed name.
That Christmas Eve, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard said the church was "on to what could be a gold mine." He figured the hotel, for parishioners only, would generate handsome reserves. He later pushed staff to boost room sales with "hard-sell" tactics and even "friendliness seminars" to sharpen their people skills.
With the hotel as its linchpin, Flag has grown into a patchwork of 67 parcels, mostly downtown, serving as a worldwide center for Scientology counseling. Flag's workforce consists of 1,200 members of the church's religious order, the Sea Organization.
The church's Clearwater land holdings are valued by the county at $89 million, of which $59 million is tax exempt. Facilities not used for religious purposes are taxed.
Besides the Fort Harrison, Flag's signature properties are the new "Super Power" building across the street, the Oak Cove high-rise and the Sandcastle overlooking Clearwater Harbor, and the Hacienda Gardens staff housing complex east of downtown.
Flag brought in $83 million in 1992, the year before it became tax-exempt and the last time public records existed for Scientology's income. Its revenue funds local operations, with the balance going to the mother church in Los Angeles.