CLEARWATER – City leaders have delayed the purchase of property in downtown Clearwater identified in the Imagine Clearwater Master Plan as vital to the successful activation and redevelopment of downtown.
The delay comes prior to meetings with Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, who presented council members during individual meetings with his plans for a revitalized downtown Cleveland Street that is focused on developing retail businesses and the creation of an entertainment center, backed in part by actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise.
In rare talks with city leaders, Miscavige met with four council members, Mayor George Cretekos, Vice-Mayor Bill Jonson, and councilmen Bob Cundiff and Hoyt Hamilton, March 14 in the ballroom of the church-owned Fort Harrison Hotel to detail his plans for the future of Cleveland Street and downtown Clearwater. Councilwoman Doreen Caudell declined Miscavige’s invitation to meet.
Cretekos said Miscavige expressed a keen interest in working with the city to redevelop the area.
“He did not propose anything specific, but talked about the need for the Church and city to work together to implement the ULI study,” Cretekos said, adding that three Church consultants attended the meeting to discuss a new retail strategy for the area.
Cretekos said the consultants claimed to have experience developing retail strategies in other cities across the world and were excited about the possibility of doing something similar in Clearwater.
Cretekos also said Miscavige implied the church would be willing to fund – perhaps even at 100 percent – the facade overhaul for the Cleveland Street District in an effort to update old buildings that have a lot of character.
“He said the Church is willing to put its money toward this,” Cretekos said.
Miscavige told Cretekos that the church’s recent purchase of $26 million worth of properties in downtown Clearwater was done with the goal of redeveloping the area.
“He indicated to me that the properties would be for commercial use, not church use,” Cretekos said.
Cretekos said it’s the church’s plan to develop an entertainment complex on those properties that could eventually include a movie theater.
During his presentation, Miscavige also addressed his desire to purchase the 1.4-acre lot the city currently is in negotiations with Clearwater Marine Aquarium to purchase, which has long been of interest to the Church.
“He mentioned a strong interest in the property, but I explained that we have a contract with CMA to purchase it,” Cretekos said.
The property was purchased by CMA in anticipation of building a new aquarium in downtown Clearwater several years ago. CMA, instead, decided to renovate its current facility on Island Estates and put the property on the market. The property, located at 301 Pierce St., is 1.4 acres and is located atop the Clearwater bluff.
With the recent approval of the city’s downtown bluffs master plan, city leaders agreed last month to move forward with the purchase of the property, which would give the city a contiguous tract of 2.1 acres of property along the north and south sides of Pierce Street between Osceola Avenue and the waterfront.
City leaders, however, delayed the approval of a contract in the not to exceed amount of $4.26 million with CMA during a workshop on March 13 until its April 20 council meeting, citing a failure to advertise the intent to purchase correctly.
“CMA has given us a contract to sell the property to the city,” Cretekos said, adding that the issue would be revisited in April.
In developing the Imagine Clearwater Master Plan, consultants urged the city to work with the Church of Scientology as it moves forward with redeveloping downtown.
Cretekos said both the city and the Church understand that message.
“I would like to think he (Miscavige) understands the importance of working together,” Cretekos said. “Whatever we do downtown, it must add value and benefit to not only the Church but to the greater Clearwater community and its residents and visitors.”