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Clearwater City Council votes tonight on buying land eyed by Church of Scientology

CLEARWATER — The City Council will vote today on whether to purchase a 1.4 acre vacant lot from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which the Church of Scientology is also lobbying to buy.

Scientology leader David Miscavige's promise to revitalize downtown with infrastructure improvements, retail recruitment and an entertainment complex with actor Tom Cruise is contingent on the church's ability to buy the aquarium land, according to spokesman Ben Shaw.

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

City staff is recommending the council buy the lot, which is across the street from City Hall at the corner of Pierce Street and Osceola Avenue, to redevelop the parcels into a hotel, condo, retail or other uses. Staff says improving the Osceola Avenue artery into downtown is a feature of the city's 10-year, $55 million overhaul of the nearby waterfront and Coachman Park.

The church wants the property, which borders its Oak Cove religious retreat and is across the street from its landmark Fort Harrison Hotel, to build a swimming pool, playground and other accommodations for parishioners, Shaw said.

EDITORIAL: Clearwater City Council should stand up to Church of Scientology

Miscavige has not released details of his retail plan to the public but has showed it to council members in individual meetings March 14. He also presented it to about 70 hand-selected downtown stakeholders and parishioners at a private meeting last week.

The aquarium rejected the church's $15 million offer for the land earlier this month in favor of allowing the city to vote on a $4.25 million contract.

The council will discuss the issue at its regular meeting tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

This is a developing story. Check back with tampabay.com for a complete report.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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