Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Church of Scientology ups bid for Clearwater Marine Aquarium land to $15 million

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology has offered the Clearwater Marine Aquarium nearly four times what the city is preparing to pay for a vacant downtown property.

The church offered the aquarium $15 million for the 1.4-acre lot, Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw confirmed, far exceeding the $4.25 million deal the City Council will vote to close on April 20.

It is the second time in three weeks Scientology leader David Miscavige has tried to outbid the city — aquarium officials passed on a $12.5 million offer the church made March 11, opting not to sell before the city has a chance to vote.

Aquarium CEO David Yates said Thursday that the nonprofit is committed to selling to the city, and no outside offer, no matter the amount, has changed that.

"The ball is in the city's hands," Yates said. "Nothing has changed. The offer we gave to the city still stands."

Shaw said the aquarium's rejection of an offer $10.75 million higher than what the city is poised to pay "calls into question the CMA board's adherence to its fiduciary duty as a charity."

"The church obviously cannot compete with this inappropriately intimate relationship between the city and CMA and will not be making any further offers," Shaw said.

The aquarium is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for a $50 million renovation of its aging facility on Island Estates that rescues, rehabilitates and exhibits marine life. It originally bought the downtown lot at the corner of Pierce Street and Osceola Avenue in 2012 for $2.1 million as part of a now-abandoned plan to relocate downtown.

The church wants the property, which is adjacent to its 13-story Oak Cove religious retreat, to build a swimming pool, a playground and other accommodations for its parishioners, Shaw said.

Consultants who designed the city's 10-year, $55 million waterfront redevelopment plan in February included the aquarium lot as property the city should ensure meets "the community's vision and productively contribute to downtown." It sits across the street from City Hall along a strip of Osceola Avenue that consultants said the city should redevelop to benefit the downtown and waterfront.

Miscavige held private meetings with City Council members March 14 to describe retail and entertainment he is planning to develop downtown. He insinuated the church's plans to bankroll a facade overhaul of Cleveland Street and recruit high-end retail to fill empty storefronts hinged on the church's ability to buy the aquarium property, City Council member Hoyt Hamilton said.

The church originally offered the aquarium $4.25 million for the lot in 2015, but aquarium officials held off to give the city time to complete its waterfront redevelopment plan and decide if it wanted to buy.

Appraisals the city commissioned in February estimated the market value of the land at $4.5 million and $4.66 million, respectively. That is up from the appraisals for the land the city received in 2015 at $4.36 million and $2.91 million.

The city leases its Harborview Center on Cleveland Street to the aquarium at no cost to display a memorabilia exhibit about Winter the dolphin. Yates added the relationship has mutual benefits, with the aquarium's $2 billion regional impact and 2.2 million hotel stays in Pinellas County over four years, according to a 2016 study by Tourism Economics.

Shaw pointed out the Church of Scientology, which has its international headquarters downtown, has an annual economic impact of $917 million, according to a 2014 Florida State University study.

As of Thursday, the majority of the City Council members said they intend to vote for buying the property, with only Bill Jonson and Robert Cundiff undecided.

City Council member Hoyt Hamilton said once city officials begin enhancing nearby Coachman Park, they can solicit bids from developers for ideas on how to redevelop the aquarium site to complement the waterfront.

"The land has great value for the development of Coachman Park," Hamilton said. "We want to see what the professionals bring to the table for that property. We can't do that if we don't own it."

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

Comments
Joe Henderson: Boycott Starbucks? Take a deep breath, folks

Joe Henderson: Boycott Starbucks? Take a deep breath, folks

A couple of weeks ago I received a call from someone doing job-related background checks on a friend of mine. He wanted to meet face-to-face, so we did what many other people do in that situation. We picked a Starbucks that was near to both of us. I’...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Clear skies for Tampa Bay lead to a hot, humid and rainy weekend

Forecast: Clear skies for Tampa Bay lead to a hot, humid and rainy weekend

Expect warm weather, clear skies and a slight increase in humidity across Tampa Bay in the next few days, before an incoming cold front raises the chance for rain.Temperatures this morning are in the low 60s with a little bit of damp air. The dry air...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Downtown’s success creates noisy problem for St. Petersburg

Downtown’s success creates noisy problem for St. Petersburg

Times Staff Writer ST. PETERSBURG — Downtown’s rapid growth has not been without tension between its residents and the businesses and events that draw exuberant crowds. The city, which has been attempting to amend its noise ordinance o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Lightning one win away from advancing; Steve Persall rides off into retirement; talking ‘St. Pete Pier’ funding; meet the Times’ new business columnist

The Daystarter: Lightning one win away from advancing; Steve Persall rides off into retirement; talking ‘St. Pete Pier’ funding; meet the Times’ new business columnist

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• It’s more of the same with sunny skies and warm temperatures today. It’ll be a bit cooler at the beaches around the mid-70s, but east of Interstate 75 it will be in the mid to upper 8...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Trademark makes it official: Call it the St. Pete Pier

Trademark makes it official: Call it the St. Pete Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Today the City Council is set to approve a $15 million construction contract and additional money for the next phase of the new Pier District expected to open in the fall of 2019.But even as council members get ready to commit hundre...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18
Teen, 16, killed in Hernando crash; 17-year-old critically injured

Teen, 16, killed in Hernando crash; 17-year-old critically injured

BROOKSVILLE — A 16-year-old boy was killed and a 17-year-old boy critically injured after their car was struck by a pick-up truck at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Country Road on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The cras...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

NEWARK, N.J. — Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business shook the walls of the Lightning locker room not long after it dispatched the Devils in Wednesday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.The 3-1 win was sparked by Nikita K...
Updated: 8 hours ago