Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Outside experts call for Clearwater and Scientology to work together

CLEARWATER — For downtown Clearwater to thrive, city leaders and the Church of Scientology should work together and communicate better, a group of outside experts recommended Friday.

Of course, that might be easier said than done.

A panel of seven experts with the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit education and research group based in Washington, D.C., spent this week immersing themselves in Clearwater's downtown and meeting with all of its major players.

Clearwater paid the institute $125,000 to provide an assessment of its downtown. The institute's experts have recently done the same thing in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Pasco County.

The panelists, experts in various planning and development fields, presented their initial findings Friday to a crowd of about 100 people. They outlined a variety of suggestions for reviving the moribund district.

But they spotlighted a particular problem they said must be resolved — conflicts between the city's government and Scientology, downtown's largest landowner and taxpayer.

As the two biggest players downtown, the two sides must communicate and coordinate more, the panel said. As an example of what could be accomplished, they pointed to how the city and the church teamed up to lure a Starbucks to Cleveland Street, downtown's historic main drag. That happened in 2000.

"I am sensitive that there is a long history of hurt feelings," said panelist Brad Rogers, a community projects manager from Maryland. "But if these two entities cannot work together, no one will."

In that spirit, toward the end of Friday's meeting, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos crossed the room and quietly introduced himself to longtime local Scientology official Ben Shaw, whom he had never met.

After the meeting, the mayor said city officials are open to more communication with the Church of Scientology, but that "the church needs to realize it is a two-way street."

"It could be better," Cretekos said of communication between the two sides.

"For whatever reason, some members of the church leadership feel that I don't want to work with the church," he said, adding that this is not true.

Scientology officials at Friday's meeting declined to comment.

Relations between the city and Scientology have evolved since the open hostility that existed when the sect first began buying up downtown property nearly 40 years ago.

But relations have been chilly over the past year or so. The city and church clashed over delays in opening the church's massive Flag Building, illegal tree cuttings and a massive tent that violated the city's sign code. And the two sides have been engaged in less-than-fruitful talks regarding a potential land swap.

The Urban Land Institute had many other recommendations. Among them:

• Build a free parking garage for downtown visitors with a trolley stop for beachgoers;

• Bring a waterfront restaurant to Coachman Park;

• Tear down the Harborview Center and expand Coachman Park, possibly with a skateboard park, interactive fountains, playground or amphitheater;

• Boost services for boaters on downtown's waterfront;

• Foster the development of more apartment complexes;

• Turn N Fort Harrison Avenue into a service-based retail corridor with businesses like a barber and laundry;

• Turn the Memorial Causeway Bridge into a work of art with lighting or decorations;

• Establish a festival square in the East Gateway area east of downtown;

• Expand uses of the Clearwater Main Library with a cafe, arts initiative or community center.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.

Comments
Sheriff: Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue responded to a crash Saturday afternoon that resulted in a natural gas leak on Citrus Park Drive, the Sheriff’s Office said. Officials said the area was evacuated and shut down from Gunn Hi...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

TAMPA — A male motorcyclist died early Saturday morning on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Tampa Police Department said.About 1:35 a.m., the victim rode his motorcycle west on the Courtney Campbell at high speeds, police said. The motorcycle stru...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

TAMPA — Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that t...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

Broward sheriff’s office launches internal investigations amid questions after Parkland massacre

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office said it is investigating allegations that multiple deputies failed to enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after the shooting rampage there, adding to the mounting internal probes examin...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

Police: Registered sex offender who attacked Marriott hotel worker arrested

TAMPA — A registered sex offender was arrested early Saturday morning by Tampa Police in connection with a hotel worker who was attacked earlier this week, the department said.John Eckhard, 41, was arrested about 1:30 a.m. on charges of aggravated ba...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

Orchestra explores spirit of Florida and the U.S. with ‘Triptych’ and ‘New World’ Symphony

ST. PETERSBURG — One of the more important programs in the Florida Orchestra’s season combined Antonin Dvorak’s best known symphony with the debut of a major commission. Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, better known as the "New World," reaches to the roots o...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

Parents accused of torturing their 13 children face new charges

The 13 Turpin siblings gained their freedom last month after one of them escaped through a window and called 911, ending years of imprisonment under parents accused of starving and chaining them to their beds in a putrid home not far from Los Angeles...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists call for tech companies to drop NRA’s digital TV channel

Activists are calling for Apple, Amazon, Google and other streaming companies to drop the National Rifle Association’s digital TV channel in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida school last week, putting the companies in the delicate position o...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

Pregnant mother Paige Howard wins women’s Gasparilla 15K

TAMPA — Initially, Tampa's Paige Howard was a little reticent about joining the pre-dawn throng at the starting line of Saturday's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K.On a morning when temperatures began in the mid-60s and climbed, Howard's ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Concerned about gun posts, dad turns in son’s phones. Cops find something else.

Concerned about gun posts, dad turns in son’s phones. Cops find something else.

After the Parkland school shooting that horrified the nation, a Miami father told police he was worried about his son’s disturbing posts with guns on Instagram and Snapchat.So he gave investigators his son’s smartphones — and they found child porn, c...
Updated: 5 hours ago