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Scientologists plan expansion

Title: Scientologists plan expansion
Date: Tuesday, 18 May 1993
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Wayne Garcia
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The organization adds one property and plans a 2,500-seat auditorium for another in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology added a 13th property to its list of Clearwater holdings Monday and unveiled plans to build a 2,500-seat auditorium that will be available to be rented for public events most of the year.

Scientology officials said the auditorium, being designed as part of a $40-million building planned for the former Gray Moss Inn site, will play an important role in downtown redevelopment.

Surprised downtown officials said that remains to be seen.

Scientology spokesman Richard Haworth said, "Having a state-of-the-art facility like this available for public use most of the year will bolster ongoing efforts to revitalize Clearwater and make the downtown even more the place to be."

The church needs the auditorium only 10-12 weeks a year and would like to see it filled with public events the rest of the time, Haworth said. The facility will feature high-tech sound and lighting systems, theater seating and a full Broadway-style stage.

The auditorium is planned for the corner of Franklin Street and Garden Avenue, one block from Scientology's international spiritual headquarters at the Fort Harrison Hotel.

News of the auditorium plans took some downtown Clearwater business owners by surprise.

"I don't know how it will be received," said Phil Henderson, president of the Downtown Development Board. More important than the need for auditorium space is convention/meeting rooms, which are part of City Commissioner Fred Thomas' plans for the former Maas Brothers building, Henderson said.

While Henderson said the auditorium certainly won't hurt downtown, he doesn't believe "the Church of Scientology is a factor for downtown redevelopment."

Haworth said the auditorium should complement any convention/meeting space and would attract more people to downtown.

"This will just be another feature to act as a magnet for downtown," Haworth said.

The Scientology auditorium also won't compete with other venues in the area, such as the 2,100-seat Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Haworth said. Ruth Eckerd officials said Monday that they had no comment until they knew more details of the Scientology proposal.

The land deals and auditorium announcement Monday continue to show the Church of Scientology's commitment to Clearwater. Church members and some court decisions say the church is a religious organization, while critics call it's a money-making venture and a cult.

The centerpiece of Scientology's latest Clearwater venture is a new building that will be used to deliver top-level training and counseling to church members. Clearwater will be the only place in the world where the training and counseling, dubbed "Super Power" by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, will be offered.

As part of the new facility, the church plans to build parking spaces and possibly a parking garage at the former Merrill Lynch building, across Franklin Street from the planned auditorium. No timetable for any construction is set.

Officials with the Church of Scientology Religious Trust in Los Angeles, the group developing the Super Power building, filed two deeds for the parking lot/garage property on Monday, Haworth said.

He said he did [not] know the details of the transactions or the sales prices. The deeds were not available for inspection Monday at the county courthouse.

According to public records, the two parcels at the southeast corner of Garden and Franklin were bought in late April by T.J.M. Holdings of St. Petersburg.

Documentary stamps on those deeds indicate a total sales price of $687,500. The parcels contain two one-story buildings that are home to a day care center, lawyers' offices and an insurance business.

T.J.M. Holding's owner, St. Petersburg contractor Terence J. McCarthy, was also the president of Graymoss Inc., the company that bought the Gray Moss Inn land before turning it over to the Church of Scientology Religious Trust in August 1991.

More recently, McCarthy pleaded guilty to two charges in a scheme to falsify federal home loan applications in southern St. Petersburg. He agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.

McCarthy could not be reached Monday afternoon for comment on the Scientology transaction.

The latest Scientology purchase is needed to provide parking for the auditorium, although Haworth said the church is not sure how many spaces will be required under Clearwater's development ordinances. The property is suitable for a parking garage, Haworth said.

[Illustration / Caption: 1. Proposed Super Power Building (former Gray Moss Inn) 2. Proposed 2,500-seat auditorium 3. Proposed Scientology parking lot/garage]