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Scientology schedules world convention in Clearwater over Thanksgiving weekend

Published Nov. 7, 2013

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology has scheduled an international meeting of its powerful fundraising arm in Clearwater the weekend after Thanksgiving.

The church estimates that the private gathering of the International Association of Scientologists, an annual meeting usually held in England, will draw about 8,000 people to downtown.

On Tuesday, the church turned in a new application for a city special events permit for the IAS meeting. The church had submitted an application in August saying the event would be this weekend, but it withdrew that information the same day.

City Manager Bill Horne said the city won't begin reviewing the new IAS permit request until the church complies with conditions the city is placing on arrangements for another celebration: the grand opening of Scientology's new Flag Building and related events, scheduled to begin Nov. 15.

The city will provide those conditions today, and the church needs to respond to them "as soon as possible," Horne said.

Sarah Heller, a church member listed on the application as "authorized person in charge," didn't respond to two requests for comment Wednesday.

Church representatives delivered their IAS plan to the city Tuesday, proposing Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 for the event, which will occur in a massive tent the church has erected beside Court Street, a major route to Clearwater Beach.

The tent has drawn scrutiny because a wrap the church put over the 150,000-square-foot tent has lettering on it that violates city sign laws. The church has so far not removed the wrap. The city Code Enforcement Board will hear that case Nov. 20.

For the IAS celebration, the church is asking the city for permission to close some side streets and sidewalks near the tent from Nov. 26 until Dec. 2.

The city has a policy that special event permit applications must be submitted at least 30 days before the event — a deadline the church might appear to have missed with its IAS request. But the church is now merely amending the application it originally filed in August, so the city considers the deadline met, Horne said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159.

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