Clearwater and The Church of Scientology battle over Marine Aquarium land

The church and Clearwater are fighting over a 1.4 acre of downtown property both want

In real estate it is always about location and that location is sparking a battle in Clearwater that will come to a head Thursday. The city of Clearwater is in competition to buy a 1.4 acres of land located on Pierce Street, near the city waterfront on the intercostal. The land is presently owned by the Marine Aquarium and the bidders are The Church of Scientology and the City of Clearwater, both with ambitious redevelopment plans for that prime 1.4 piece of land.

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Last week as we reported the church was willing to give the Marine Aquarium $15 million dollars for the land. They want to use the parcel to create a home for high end retailers, build condo’s, apartments and parks. They are willing to spend a reported $60 million on the project, plus they want to move on this quickly and they are ready to go as soon as the land can be secured.

Meanwhile, the Marine Aquarium is looking at an offer by the city to purchase the land at over three times less than the church offer. The Clearwater bid is for $4.25 million and they also hope to attract $55 million dollars from investors to basically do the same thing The Church of Scientology wants to do, develop a waterfront showcase that would have high end condos, apartments as well big time retailers.

Yesterday, in a press release, Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw was wondering why the city would want to do the same thing his clients want to do. Shaw said the plan fulfills a recommendation made in 2014 by the Urban Land Institute that the city and church work together to revitalize downtown. He confirmed the redevelopment plans “are dependent on the church being able to complete the Oak Cove retreat” by buying the adjacent aquarium property.

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But we are looking at the city of Clearwater wanting to control how much land that the church can own. The church is making it clear that if the city buys the land they will stop spending money developing and improving Clearwater.

That does not look like it will keep the city from buying the land. Mayor George Cretekos and most of the city council seem to be strong yes votes to buy the land.

From Clearwater’s point of view they feel that it is the best interest of all the citizens that they handle the development of the project of the waterfront land on the intercostal. The church sees it as the city attempting them from expanding their footprint in Clearwater.

This high stakes game of chicken between Church of Scientology and the city of Clearwater. The vote will take place on Thursday the vote will take place and who really wins won’t come until years from now.




Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.