CLEARWATER — A Scientology official didn't have much to say about recent church activities, but she told a gathering of Clearwater neighborhood activists Monday that answers would be coming soon.
A new date for the dedication of the massive Flag Building downtown, which the church had originally tentatively planned for Sunday, will be made public "very shortly," said church spokeswoman Pat Harney.
"It's going to happen soon. It's something we're all looking forward to. I assure you that it's a bright future, not just for Scientology, but for all of us here," Harney said.
That answer didn't satisfy some at the Clearwater Neighborhood Coalition meeting.
"We've been hearing that for several years," said one person.
"Will it be by the end of the year?" asked another.
"Absolutely," Harney said.
City officials were scheduled to meet Tuesday with church representatives, but no final decision was expected to be made at the meeting, said Christopher Hubbard, chairman of the city's special events committee.
The church and city agree that shutting streets and closing sidewalks will work only on a Sunday. Just three Sundays remain open during the city's busy festival season — Oct. 27, Nov. 17 and Nov. 24.
Other weekends have events drawing people downtown. In fact, the city's first "World Rescue Challenge," an international competition for firefighters and other rescue workers, will begin Oct. 27.
But World Rescue officials told the city that they wouldn't mind having a major Scientology celebration on the same day, Hubbard said. On Tuesday, a Scientology-affiliated charter school, the Clearwater Academy International, announced that it was assembling a team of current and former students to participate in the rescue event.
In August, the church applied for a special event permit that would have required street and sidewalk closures on Oct. 6. Last month, the church told the city to scrap that date.
City emails show flashes of tension between the city and the church.
In late September, Scientology representative Peter Mansell emailed City Manager Bill Horne to complain about news coverage of the delay, saying the Oct. 6 date had only been a placeholder. Horne replied that the city had to treat the date seriously, as the church hadn't provided the city any other options or information.
Earlier in the month, Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar, whose department handles special event permits, characterized the church as "being less than cooperative in providing what is needed."
"Need to know how much leash I have," he wrote to Assistant City Manager Jill Silverboard.
The church could open the building without city approval, but it wouldn't have police protection, street closures and other measures designed to make large events go smoothly.
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Church officials have estimated that up to 10,000 Scientologists will attend the event. On Monday, Harney said the church has 10,000 members in the greater Clearwater area, including 2,400 religious workers.
Harney said the seven-story structure also known as the "Super Power" building is to Scientologists what the Vatican represents for Catholics or the Mormon Tabernacle to Mormons. The building, which she said will be used for "Scientology counseling and studies," has spiritual significance for church members.
After construction started on the building in 1998, it stalled for years, eventually resulting in city fines totaling $413,500.
Residents also asked Harney about the recent $3.1 million purchase of part of the "Super Block," long touted by downtown dreamers as key for reviving the moribund area.
A common thought among downtown observers is that the church bought the property on Osceola Avenue and Drew Street to trade for a Clearwater Marine Aquarium parcel that it desires on Pierce Street near City Hall.
The church has no announcements to make on that subject at this point, Harney said. "We'll see what happens."
Charlie Frago can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.