CLEARWATER — Previously three years, the Church of Scientology and its parishioners reportedly engaged in a quiet collection of land purchases primarily doubling the church’s footprint downtown.
Lots of these properties mysteriously stay vacant, and metropolis leaders are rising impatient that the homeowners usually are not doing their half to assist breathe life right into a struggling downtown.
They’ve grown so pissed off, in truth, that they’re now exploring choices on both offering incentives or penalties to homeowners who don’t present any intent of shifting ahead.
Throughout a gathering of the Neighborhood Redevelopment Company on Sept. 14, Metropolis Council members’ dialogue turned towards enhancing the repute of downtown.
They praised the success of the closure of two blocks of Cleveland Road, and Mayor Frank Hibbard referred to as for an expert survey looking for residents’ notion and reservations about downtown.
“I want to get some statistics and a few anecdotal proof of what retains individuals away,” Hibbard mentioned. “I feel we all know Scientology is definitely one of many components, however I need to have the ability to measure that over time and see if perceptions are, in truth, altering.”
That’s when Council member Hoyt Hamilton mentioned it was time to debate the “elephant within the room,” referring to the church’s plans for the quite a few properties it owns.
“Is there a means for us to contact every a type of new property homeowners and simply flat-out ask, ‘What’s your plan for that property, and when you have any plan is there something we are able to do that will help you?’” he requested metropolis workers. “And if all we get is, ‘Effectively, I don’t actually know what I need to do with it,’ then I need to ask the query, then why the hell did you purchase it?”
Hamilton, who owns the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Seaside, mentioned if he was going to purchase a bit of economic property, then he would have plans for it earlier than he acquired it and would head straight to the town to start out the allowing course of.
“We’re not experiencing that,” he mentioned. “Individuals are shopping for industrial properties and making no effort to place one thing on it.”
CRA Director Amanda Thompson mentioned the town can’t compel individuals to reply, however workers was already planning a big promoting marketing campaign for downtown companies. However as a way to participate within the advertising and marketing effort that goals to draw traders, these property homeowners would want to supply sure data.
Metropolis Supervisor Invoice Horne requested if the council needed to take a step additional and penalize homeowners who do nothing with their properties, including that some cities talk an expectation with homeowners that they’re anticipated to develop these properties.
Council members agreed that one thing wanted to be achieved, however Mayor Frank Hibbard mentioned he hoped to implement each carrots and sticks whereas ensuring to respect property rights to remain on stable authorized floor.
Metropolis Lawyer Pam Akin mentioned she would put together a memo earlier than the following CRA assembly that examined points associated to fines and penalties, however added there have been some authorized limitations on what will be achieved past code enforcement.
“We are able to’t run from it, as a result of Scientology continues to be going to be right here,” Council member Mark Bunker mentioned. “And in the event that they proceed to do issues like purchase up all of the properties and purposefully go away them empty to sabotage the downtown redevelopment, effectively, except we’re going to attempt to search some approach to put a cease to that, I don’t see how that’s going to alter.”
A special method
As an alternative of operating from it, Bunker mentioned perhaps it’s time to start out embracing the fascination with Scientology and advertising and marketing it.
“There are two issues that folks consider once they consider Clearwater. It’s the seaside and it’s the Church of Scientology’s presence right here,” he mentioned. “Now there’s a fascination with Scientology that has led to numerous books, TV reveals, films. Individuals are fascinated by it, so perhaps Scientology tourism can be a great way to go. I’m not saying we leap into it proper now, however I feel it’s one thing to think about the identical means Salem embraced the Witch Trials or there’s cities throughout the nation which have haunted excursions of … buildings which have ghosts in them.”
He steered the historic society become involved and arrange excursions to attract individuals to downtown.
“Sort of like we dare you to return downtown with a assure that you just gained’t be kidnapped,” he mentioned.
His fellow council members didn’t precisely heat to the concept.
“I don’t know if I’m able to do Scientology tourism but. I’m not that avant-garde, I suppose,” Hibbard mentioned with fun.