Rod Keller continues to get us crucial information on Scientology’s latest takeover attempt in Clearwater, Florida. Once again, he’s worn away some shoeleather for us…
This week Scientology leader David Miscavige met separately with members of Clearwater’s City Council to discuss his plan for a business district in the downtown area. We have notes made by the officials, and they include some changes about the project from what was reported earlier. The Tampa Bay Times reported that city officials had earlier been told by Miscavige that property owners in the four by four block area would be required to sell to the church or a group of wealthy members, but after a public uproar, Miscavige is now singing a different tune, denying that he wants full control over the area in his meetings with the council members. “Mr. Miscavige reported that he did not have intent to control or exercise oversight of Downtown Clearwater as had been reported in the press,” says councilman Bill Jonson. [Please see our correction, below.]
“Mr. Miscavige spoke first of his frustration of not being able to roll out his ideas to the public on a timetable he had wanted to, because of the newspaper stories that he said were largely inaccurate,” says councilman Bob Cundiff. The city, county, state and federal buildings in the district are not for sale, and we haven’t found any business owners who have been approached to sell. David Miscavige did not ask the council members for a mandate to sell properties in the district to the church.
Instead, Miscavige had two main points to cover with the members. First, he presented his plan to renovate storefronts, recruiting retailers and creating a vibrant shopping district along Cleveland Street, and to build a movie theater complex along Myrtle, supposedly with some involvement from actor Tom Cruise. Second, he wants to purchase the property owned by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) on the waterfront. That property is not in the business district, as Mr. Jonson noted: “I told them that this was outside of the scope of the ‘retail strategy’ presentation, and that since this was a proposed Council agenda item the same presentation would need to be made to the entire Council at the upcoming public meeting.”
But the two projects are undeniably linked. Councilman Hoyt Hamilton told the Tampa Bay Times “He didn’t come out and say it, but it was more of that his funding resources would be much more amenable if the (aquarium) property were to be available to the church,” Hamilton said.
That’s the deal Scientology is offering the city – renovations for downtown in exchange for letting the church acquire the aquarium site. All the city has to do is decline to purchase that empty lot and it will likely go to the highest bidder, which will be Scientology.
Miscavige has a theory as to why the aquarium is only being offered to the city at this point. Mr. Cundiff reported “He said he has offered the CMA a large amount of money for the property, but they are still reluctant to sell to the church. He said that he thought they would not sell because someone on the CMA board was a born-again Christian and hated the Scientologists. I told him that I was a born-again Christian, and hated no one. I told him that CMA should feel free to sell their property to whomever they wish, as should anyone who wants to sell property.”
David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium denies the fairly outrageous charge of hatred and discrimination. “This is untrue, and we currently have an offer before the City of Clearwater to purchase the property, as the City has conveyed to us multiple times their desire to own the property,” he tells us.
Scientology’s plan for the property is to build a hotel for visiting Scientologists with more amenities than the adjacent Oak Cove. They want to make staying at the Oak Cove more attractive with the addition of a swimming pool. “He said the hotel is a first class hotel, and is completely taxable, but has no amenities for the people from around the world who stay there. He would like to use the CMA property to build, according to the artist conception he showed me, a secondary hotel on the corner of Osceola and Pierce, with a swimming pool complex, and whatever amenities the hotel guests needed,” says Mr. Cundiff.
In exchange Miscavige is offering to renovate the storefronts along Cleveland Street. Councilman Jonson says, “The retail strategy is focused primarily on facade improvements along Cleveland. [Scientology] paid for the designs and offers financial assistance to pay for the facade improvements to be done to private property. [Scientology] retained Gensler Architects to design possible facade improvements for all existing businesses along Cleveland. Additionally they designed facade enhancements to now vacant storefronts. The facade designs generally follow the architecture design of historic buildings and create interesting facades for the existing generic building faces. Also present was Irwin Miller from Gensler in LA, Scott Dobling from Hybridge Commercial Real Estate in Tampa, and Wade Robinette from Retail Strategies in Birmingham Alabama. They said, ‘Cleveland Street has a lot of potential. We see massive potential.'”
But not everybody wants a new building facade. The Lucky Anchor Irish Pub on Cleveland just finished thousands of dollars of improvements as a sports bar and not in the style of a historic building. “They would have to reimburse me the money I just put into it,” says owner Clay Irwin. Facade grants in other cities are usually matching grants, but in Clearwater the church is offering to pay for them entirely. “The church is considering paying up to 100 percent of the facade improvements,” says mayor George Cretekos. Mr. Jonson notes, “my personal observation is that the retail plan will be up to the downtown property owners as to whether to implement along with the decision of the entire community to shop.”
Former Scientologist Aaron Levin-Smith thinks the public will not support the district, but Scientologists will be forced to. “The language the church is using is not that this will attract a ton of non-Scientologists to the downtown area. Miscavige believes if he tells all the local Scientologists to shop in this area, after he personally selects and approves the businesses that will be in the area, it will be a win-win for David Miscavige and for the Scientology public. The downtown shopping center will be part of David Miscavige’s crown jewel. He will absolutely order all Sea Org members and all Scientologists to shop in the area.
“He will try to put businesses down there that would make going to Clearwater Mall or Tampa International Mall, or Dunedin unnecessary. The win for public Scientologists is that they would no longer have to go to other towns for their entertainment and shopping needs. The win for David Miscavige is he’ll look like he saved downtown Clearwater,” Smith-Levin says.
— Rod Keller
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that the Tampa Bay Times had published a story that was “largely false” because it said that Scientology leader David Miscavige required properties in the special business district to be sold to the church or its wealthy members or cooperative owners. That is what city officials were told before Miscavige, this week, changed his story and said he wasn’t trying to acquire the properties. The change in story was by Miscavige, and not because the Times got its story wrong. We regret the error.
Adoption threat? Not so fast, attorney says
On Thursday, in the comments section of our story about Marty Rathbun’s December 2014 deposition, a comment was left by someone who had created their Disqus account to leave only that remark. They asserted that they had some knowledge of Rathbun and that his 2016 turn against his attorneys had something to do with the November 2013 adoption of a child.
That suggestion was then picked up over at the ESMB website and became a running talking point. Rathbun, the theory assumed, had changed direction so radically because the adoption was secretly being threatened by David Miscavige and the Church of Scientology.
Ray Jeffrey, Rathbun’s former attorney, tells us that’s extremely unlikely.
At the time that they adopted their son, the Rathbuns were each represented by Ray Jeffrey, Marc Wiegand, and Elliott Cappuccio, and the legal team was litigating Monique’s harassment lawsuit against the church. In January 2016, Monique fired the legal team and then, a few months later, dismissed the lawsuit. Marty Rathbun went on to badmouth Jeffrey at his blog.
We asked Jeffrey if this dramatic turnaround could be the result of Scientology threats regarding the adoption.
“It’s so farfetched I just can’t give it any consideration at all,” he tells us. “Remember, David Miscavige and the church were subject to the jurisdiction of a Texas court, somewhere they didn’t want to be. And we had in place an injunction that protected the Rathbuns from the church. Miscavige and Scientology would be taking an extraordinary risk to threaten the Rathbuns’ adoption. In Texas, it’s a crime to make such a threat — it’s called blackmail.”
Ray explained that if the Rathbuns had been threatened at that time, it would have been the best thing possible for their lawsuit, and so the church wouldn’t risk it. “Even if Miscavige had something negative on Marty, or were going to claim that they had something on him — even something they had a legal right to reveal — that’s called blackmail. I can’t think of anything that would have been more helpful to Monique’s case than to have a threat like that made,” he says.
“People must forget that David Miscavige was still trying to get out of the case. Why would the church risk making a criminal threat when the Rathbuns were represented by experienced litigators, with an injunction in place, and before a good and conscientious judge? It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
And yes, Jeffrey understands that the church doesn’t always act rationally: “They might have shot themselves in the foot by suing Debbie [Cook] and Wayne [Baumgarten], but this would have been so much more beyond that. I don’t think Scientology would gamble that Marty would not tell us about such a threat. It’s just not credible.”
Thank you, Ray, for helping out with that point.
Bonus items from our tipsters
We meant to post this yesterday, and you might have already seen it. But if not, it’s fun to see Mark Bunker in action, bullbaiting the council. His segment starts at about the 5:30 mark…
L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday is March 13, and it was celebrated by Scientology with an event in Clearwater, Florida on March 11. But last night tape of that event was played in the other orgs around the world. Things looking a little sparse in Venezuela…
Cake in Los Angeles…
Meanwhile, here’s the actual caption from Joy Villa: “Friends Birthday party tonight! trying on different looks…winner or nah?” Is the MAGA queen suddenly too shy to mention LRH to her new fans?
Let them eat ice! (AOSH Europe)
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans. (And thank you, Observer!)
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield