Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dynamic of City Council meetings with Scientology leader a rarity

CLEARWATER — It's not unusual for an elected official to venture into the community to meet with a citizen, but a major organization summoning each city council member out from City Hall to lobby a single issue? That almost never happens.

In a rare dynamic where the constituent is beckoning each council member to his headquarters instead of going to theirs, Scientology leader David Miscavige will host individual meetings at the church's Fort Harrison Hotel on Tuesday to discuss his downtown retail strategy.

Miscavige has not announced plans for a presentation to the general public, prompting one council member to decline her private meeting.

The four who plan to visit Miscavige say it is their chance to learn more about the church's intentions for downtown and advocate for transparency.

"How can I express my opinions to (Miscavige) unless I have an opportunity to meet with him?" Mayor George Cretekos said.

City Council member Doreen Caudell initially accepted a private meeting with Miscavige when it was added to her calendar on Feb. 27. But after the Tampa Bay Times published an article Monday detailing the scope of Miscavige's plan, which involves the church controlling the downtown core, Caudell said she will not attend unless the public is included.

It was common knowledge the church had been working on a general plan to recruit retail for years, but City Council members said they did not know the extent of the church's vision to manage a business district until the Times report.

"I welcome Scientology to present their intended plan before us all at a public hearing," Caudell said. "We need transparency and communication."

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Cretekos said "it's up to him whether he wants to make it public," but that he is going to urge Miscavige to include citizens in the process.

He said he is open to the idea of Scientology being in control of economic development if they can deliver a retail district that benefits the entire community, not just parishioners. Cretekos said Shaw told him two years ago that the church was recruiting a Whole Foods, but "here it is two years later, and I haven't seen a Whole Foods in downtown Clearwater."

"If Jeff Vinik were trying to buy up property and didn't want people to know he was buying property and he wanted to have a meeting, am I going to say no?" Cretekos said, referencing the Tampa Bay Lighting owner who launched a $2 billion redevelopment project in Tampa. "I'm not going to make a difference between a Jeff Vinik and a Church of Scientology until we see what the plans are, and then I'll make a determination if it's in the best interest of the city of Clearwater."

But the church's strategy does not require approval from the council or voters and is already being implemented. Along with the more than $260 million in property Scientology has acquired under its name since arriving in Clearwater in 1975, and later establishing its international spiritual headquarters downtown, the church has bought more than $26 million of property in the central core over the past several weeks through shell companies.

The concept involves recruiting a few major national retailers to anchor the district and filling the grid with handpicked businesses all at one time, similar to how an outdoor mall is established, said Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor and City Manager Bill Horne, who in October were shown renderings of the retail strategy by Miscavige.

Horne will be present for each council member's meeting with Miscavige.

"It's a comfort level that I think both sides want to have in the meeting," Horne said. "Everybody is quite frankly on their best behavior."

It is only the second time in Miscavige's 30 years leading Scientology that he has called for formal meetings with each elected official.

The first time was in July to emphasize the church's interest in a 1.4-acre lot across the street from City Hall that is owned by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The City Council is expected to vote Thursday on whether to buy the land.

Horne said Miscavige will also present the retail plan to a group of select downtown business owners on Monday.

City Council member Hoyt Hamilton said he won't skip the meeting with Miscavige because city officials must keep open communication with downtown's largest landowner.

He said it's typical for an investor or business person to brief council members privately before presenting to the public, so Scientology should follow through with a transparent game plan.

"We can't take the property back, we don't have that ability," Hamilton said. "They technically don't even have to come to us to do what they want to do. So we've got to play the hand we're dealt. I have no problem telling Mr. Miscavige the church as the property owner needs to be transparent and work with the organizations that have already been established concerning the downtown."

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

Dynamic of City Council meetings with Scientology leader a rarity 03/11/17 [Last modified: Saturday, March 11, 2017 11:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest

    BY AMY SCHERZER

    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other

    News

    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.