As downtown Tampa and St. Pete grow and flourish, downtown Clearwater is being left in the dust.
People affiliated with the Church of Scientology are buying up huge chunks of downtown Clearwater. For the Church of Scientology's reported plan, they need all the property from Osceola Avenue west to Myrtle Avenue and from Drew Street south to Pierce Street.
Vacant lots and for sale signs pepper the landscape around downtown Clearwater. It's a sharp contrast to the pristine buildings owned by the Church of Scientology headquartered there.
But according to our partners at the Tampa Bay Times, the church, through anonymous partners, has been buying a number of these properties. They are telling city leaders they have big plans.
Bill Horne is the Clearwater City Manager. "The church leadership has advised me that they want to make a contribution in achieving our retail goals in our downtown."
We contacted the Church of Scientology three different times today to get some sort of statement about its plans and did not receive one.
Leif Oskarsson has owned Signworx on Cleveland Street for two years. He has no issue with the Church helping the downtown to grow. "If it can bring more business down to the city and bring more retail space down here then that's a good thing. I don't see a negative thing about it."
But Bay Area realtor Lorraine Bennett grew up here. She's leary of the church owning so much of downtown, saying it's sometimes uncomfortable for people to come here. "Why do we need the church of Scientology to do that? Why doesn't the city of Clearwater use their own city planning to figure out how to make that work, kind of like they did in Downtown St. Pete?"
City Manager Bill Horne says they do have a master plan. "Clearwater has a plan, has an idea of what it would like to see done. We would like a variety of retail options for our citizens and our guests and we are interested in any partner who has some ideas on how to do that."
But Horne says while they welcome the ideas. The city, not the church, will take the lead in revitalizing downtown. "There is never any intent whatsoever to give that leadership role up to anybody."
The City Manager says he and members of city council plan to meet with church leadership next week. They will go over ideas for downtown.
He says once there is a more concrete plan it should be made public at a council meeting.