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Scientologists give Clearwater dates for Flag Building dedication, other events

The Church of Scientology wants to dedicate its new Flag Building, left, on Nov. 17 in an event the church says will draw 10,000 Scientologists to downtown Clearwater. The church wants the city to close Fort Harrison Avenue for most of that weekend, as well as erect a temporary fence “to create a perimeter” to keep uninvited guests at a distance.
Published Nov. 5, 2013

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology notified city officials Monday of plans to dedicate its new Flag Building on Nov. 17 in a private event the church says will draw 10,000 Scientologists to downtown Clearwater.

That day will highlight more than a week of celebrations for the church, which has requested street and sidewalk closures, police protection and other city services through an application for a special events permit.

Most problematic is the church's request to close a major downtown thoroughfare — Fort Harrison Avenue — for most of the weekend of Nov. 15-17. Fort Harrison is a north-south street through downtown that normally carries heavy beach-bound traffic on weekends.

The church also asked that Clearwater police erect a temporary fence "to create a perimeter" to keep uninvited guests at a distance from the Flag Building that Sunday.

Closing one of the city's busiest streets for the bulk of the weekend "may be a stretch," said Mayor George Cretekos.

"My guess is that people always ask for more than they expect to get," he said. "We need to make sure that beach traffic remains as unimpeded as possible."

For weeks, city officials could only guess when the church planned to cut the ribbon on its massive Flag Building, a seven-story, $145 million neo-Mediterreanean structure that occupies an entire downtown block. Construction began in 1998, but was delayed for years, eventually drawing a $435,000 fine from the city.

A city planning committee will review the church's new application Wednesday. Originally, the church tentatively scheduled the Flag Building dedication for early October, but then delayed it.

"At least we have some idea now of what they're requesting," Cretekos said.

Normally, the city requires a month's notice to review a special events application, but it will attempt to expedite review of the church's application, said Christopher Hubbard, the city's special events committee chairman.

A church spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment Monday.

The new application asks that Fort Harrison Avenue be closed from 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, until 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17.

A church film crew has also requested that street lights and traffic signals be temporarily removed at Pierce Street and Fort Harrison, the corner where the Flag Building is located.

City officials, including City Manager Bill Horne, have been cool to that idea in recent months. Church officials have said they would pay for the temporary removal — a cost the city estimates would be in the six figures.

At the 1 p.m. Flag Building dedication on Nov. 17, guests will fill the sidewalks and both Pierce Street and S Fort Harrison Avenue. The church wants to close surrounding sidewalks, as they will "be virtually impassable," according to the application.

The church also plans to use amplified sound and video screens so that its members can hear and see the proceedings from wherever they are in the vicinity of the Flag Building.

Many events during the week of celebration will occur in a 150,000-square-foot tent the church has erected. Although sketchy on the details, the church application states that it plans seminars and banquets through Nov. 23 as well as "presentation" events in the tent on the two days prior to the dedication. The first sidewalk closure requested is Nov. 8.

The city will work with the church to accommodate its request, Cretekos said, "but we have an obligation to the entire city also."

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

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