CLEARWATER – The Church of Scientology intends to comply with a city Code Enforcement edict that it finish outside work on its new flag building on Fort Harrison Avenue.
The $50 million building, intended to house the church’s ministerial training and spiritual counseling sessions with students from around the world, was started in 1999. Work halted in 2003 with only the outside walls completed.
On March 22 the city Code Enforcement Board issued an ultimatum after local officials had received complaints about the growing amount of trash and weeds that were littering the grounds around the huge, slate-gray edifice.
The church must obtain new permits to complete the outside of the building and its grounds within 90 days and finish work to the city’s satisfaction within 180 days or face $250 a-day fines.
A Church of Scientology spokesperson, Pat Harney, said Monday that the church fully intends to meet the city deadlines and actually resume work on the building’s interior during 2006.
“If you look around Clearwater at all of our buildings, they are all nice-looking,” said Harney. “We fully intend to maintain our standards but, after all, it is a construction site.”
Harney said work stopped after church leaders recognized that the original plans for the interior of the building no longer met the original intent of being a showcase structure when matched against new buildings erected by the church around the world.
“This is our Mecca, the base where Scientologists from around the world will come to achieve a higher state,” she said. “This building must, in the end, represent the church’s highest standards.”
The church calls the building its flag nuilding, referring to the goal of making it stand out from the rest of the denomination’s fleet.
“In 1975, church management and our advanced religious retreat were located on a ship,” said Harney. “When we became too large, management looked for the ideal location on land. That became Clearwater.
“In 1982, church management moved to Los Angeles. In Clearwater, we have continued to grow and currently have 25 different properties in the larger Clearwater area.”
Last year, she said, the church paid about $650,000 in property taxes to Pinellas County. She said the thousands of Scientologists and church employees who visit or live in the area are a vital part of the local economy.
“We are completing the final design of the interior of the flag Building, the final design of the restoration of the Fort Harrison (hotel across the street) and planning for the renovation of the Oak Cove (auditorium south of the flag building),” said Harney. She said a 475-car parking garage is also on the drawing boards.
Kevin Garriott, a Clearwater building official, said that, as of April 4, the church had not yet applied for the permits to resume work on the outside of the building.
“There have been some talks but no official action yet,” he said.