CLEARWATER — Two decades ago, the Church of Scientology announced it would build a blockbuster of a building in downtown Clearwater to contain a program the church's founder said would enable Scientologists to "create a new world."
Last month, after many years of delays and construction starts and stops, church leaders proclaimed that the ornate, city block-sized structure would open Oct. 6 with a dedication ceremony attended by 10,000 Scientologists and guests.
But now, there's another delay.
On Wednesday, city leaders confirmed that the church is delaying the grand opening indefinitely.
The church faced two city deadlines this week to supply information for a special events permit to close streets and sidewalks around the Flag Building, also known as the "Super Power" building. But on Tuesday, a church representative called city Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar to say that the church had decided to delay the event. No alternative date was provided.
A church spokeswoman didn't return phone calls and an email requesting comments Wednesday.
Dunbar has directed his staff to start looking at dates that definitely wouldn't work for the large event. Fall is a busy event season for the city and finding a date for the building dedication that will work might prove difficult, said City Manager Bill Horne.
"The problem is that the further you go into the fall, the more competition you get from other events," Horne said. "Here's another example of where good planning makes a difference. An event planned for late September or early October would avoid that kind of competition."
The church has been emailing its members for months in an effort to assure a large crowd would show up for the opening, said church critic Mike Rinder, a former Scientology executive who now writes a blog critical of church leadership and claims to hear about some goings-on inside the church. Many days he posts letters and emails he says the church has sent to its members.
The church first asked its members to make travel plans to Clearwater in September for the dedication, then shifted to October, said Rinder, who was chief spokesman and a central figure in planning church events for more than 20 years before defecting in 2007.
Rinder said that during his tenure there, the church often made last-minute program changes for big events, but never changed dates.
Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said he had heard several possible dates Wednesday.
"It's a moving target. Stay tuned," he said.
The Super Power building's dedication is just one of three major Scientology events being planned for downtown Clearwater in coming months — and all of them now appear to involve a huge tent the church has erected downtown to hold thousands of people.
The church put up the heavy-duty tent, which fits over a metal superstructure and resembles an aircraft hangar, in late August in preparation for a different Scientology event, a gathering of the International Association of Scientologists scheduled for Nov. 8-9 and estimated to draw about 8,000 church members.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But Horne said late Wednesday that he now understands that the tent, which borders Court Street, the main thoroughfare to Clearwater Beach, will remain in place through the end of the year.
It will be used for the Flag Building dedication, the International Association of Scientologists gathering, and a New Year's Eve event that the church usually holds in California.
The tent hasn't been a bone of contention for Clearwater residents so far and doesn't worry Cretekos.
"You say 'tent' and I think of an old revival-style tent. This is more like a building. I don't see it falling down in bad weather," Cretekos said, adding that he's not concerned about the tent staying up for the balance of 2013.
He said he hasn't heard from any residents upset about the tent.
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago