Tampa Bay Times reporter Tracey McManus had another great piece yesterday, this time about Scientology leader David Miscavige holding a briefing Tuesday night at the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida for local business owners to wow them about his plans for revitalizing the city’s dead downtown. But Tracey really buried the lead on her story. You had to read nearly to the end to find out just how serious Miscavige was about impressing the locals. He brought out the big guns — John Travolta, Kelly Preston, and Kirstie Alley! (In a new version of the story, the celebs have been moved up to the front. Well, sure!)
One of the people invited was Leif Oskarsson, who owns the Signworx store on Cleveland Street. Leif posted photos of the three big celebs and a shot of himself with Travolta to his Facebook page. “Sitting there and watching this just stunned everybody,” Oskarsson told McManus for her story. “It was so gorgeous. … How can you not welcome the help financially to help the city of Clearwater come alive again?”
OK, sure. But what about the celebrities, man! We tried to call Signworx but no one answered, and we sent Leif an email asking him if he could tell us something about how the celebrities were used in Miscavige’s big presentation. We hope he gets back to us about that. We’re sure it was a hoot.
Now, we’re only half joking about this. We really do think the presence of the celebrities is as important as anything else that happened Tuesday in that presentation. If you remember, Miscavige couldn’t get anyone better than Jenna and Bodhi Elfman to last year’s grand opening of the new Los Angeles media studios that he spent a crapload on, and that was a pretty big moment for the church. So for this trio to show up at the Fort Harrison Tuesday night should give you some idea that for Miscavige, the current situation in Clearwater with the city council is a VERY BIG DEAL.
To help understand why that is, we decided to try and visualize things a bit better with the help of the city’s $55 million plan for resurrecting downtown, which they call “Imagine Clearwater.”
(We’re guessing the original title was more like “Imagine Clearwater Without Scientology,” but these things tend to get edited for sensitivity. Ahem.)
So, to get a sense of what the city is trying to do, we pulled this slide out of the Imagine Clearwater presentation about how the goal is to revitalize the waterfront, which will increase the pedestrian traffic and fortunes of Osceola Avenue and Cleveland Street (in this view, north is to the right)…
We’ve added a red rectangle to show you the parcel that’s causing such a fuss. It’s a vacant lot that has two very important Scientology properties adjacent to it. To the east, across Osceola Avenue, is the legendary Fort Harrison Hotel, Scientology’s holiest site (marked No. 1). To the south of the parcel is the Oak Cove Hotel, another Scientology location where church members come to stay for expensive processing (No. 2). The current City Hall is to the north (No. 3), and just for fun we’ve marked the condo building that is being transformed so that Tom Cruise will have a double-penthouse up on the top two floors (No. 4).
As you can see in this diagram, if the city is going to “knit” the waterfront to Cleveland by way of Osceola, creating that flow of pedestrians and increased business, then that vacant lot is a pretty important part of the puzzle.
Currently, it’s owned by an aquarium company that at one time hoped to move there as part of an expansion. But Scientology reportedly helped to sabotage that project, which might be why the aquarium company is staying committed to sell the 1.4-acre parcel to the city for $4.25 million, and is ignoring the stupid money Miscavige is waving around in an attempt to kill the deal. He most recently upped his offer to $15 million for that small piece of land. $15 million! But so far, the aquarium company is still committed to the sale to the city, pending an April 20 city council vote.
Why does Miscavige want that piece of land so badly? He says he wants to build a swimming pool there for the guests of the Oak Cove, but that’s a laugher. As any Scientologist will tell you, when you’re in Clearwater, you’re kept busy racking up huge bills on expensive auditing and other processes. (The Flag Land Base in Clearwater takes in more revenue than all of the other Scientology facilities around the world, combined.) David Miscavige doesn’t give a hoot about the leisure time of his guests.
So why is he so afraid of the city getting that parcel to the point that he brought out some of his biggest celebrities to schmooze Cleveland St. business owners? And why is he pushing an $8 million plan to upgrade storefronts along Cleveland — with the unstated condition that the city kill the Osceola land purchase and allow the church to buy it?
Well, we think this slide from the Imagine Clearwater presentation might help explain what’s giving Miscavige the sweats.
Former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder explained to us the other day that Miscavige will want to keep the “wogs” away — non-Scientologists. He said that the worst thing for Miscavige would be for the city to put a large structure on the parcel so that non-Scientologists could get a great view right into the Fort Harrison and Oak Cove.
And sure enough, take a good look at that slide. You can see that that’s exactly what the city is proposing. Choosing examples from Miami, Denver, and nearby St. Petersburg, they’re hoping a sizable and hip edifice might be put up on that plot of land (which is to the left in that diagram) and a couple of others. And boy, what good views you’d then have of what the Scientologists were up to next door.
No wonder Miscavige is willing to spend so much (tax-free) parishioner cash, and wrangled his big celebs out to gladhand the local burghers.
UPDATE: Leif Oskarsson was good enough to get back to us with a response. Here’s what he sent us about Scientology’s celebrities and the presentation…
Yes, they were there and they were great to talk to and meet. The meeting was very informative and was really getting all of us as business owners and also property owners excited about the progress.
When it comes to all the celebrities that were present — and I don’t know all the names — the spirit from all was high. As a non-Scientologist and a business owner I was impressed with the way they have set it up and the presentation. The amount of help from the large designer firm Gensler, paid for by the church, to help design the owners’ properties at no cost to the property owners was impressive. The virtual view of Cleveland St. and downtown was so amazing.
People will love it if this goes through and the city sells that lot for the hotel swimming pool which has not been used for 30 years and is just dirt there anyway. As a business owner in downtown and in Florida through my other business I really know how much of a cost this has been for them to just support the city and help with reviving a tired downtown. Between tourist tax dollars that the church will pay and with the enormous amount of money spent in the greater Tampa Bay area and also in Clearwater, it is nothing but good stuff.
If it was a Jewish or Catholic or any other organization doing this it would be no issues from the city, but because of the church I think it is just sad. They are just doing something good and putting the money were their mouth is and no one else has stepped up to offer to revive an entire city even of properties that are not owned by them.
The church is not asking for anything but to offer to support the aquarium and give any funds to them that the city would get if it sold to the church. And it’s really no brainier with what should happen here. The incredible store front facings and the fresh Florida theme look of tired buildings with us as tenants would so help the city.
The stars did not really speak much except for and with us the owners of businesses. I was talking to Kirstie since she has a storage unit next door and she is really helpful if we needed any support as business owners. John was one of the nicest guys I ever talked to, humble and friendly. He listened to anyone wanting to speak to him or take pictures with him. He has Clearwater in his heart and is more than willing to represent our city to help us make our city grow. How great is that? How can we not have that as a great support for our city. One of the most beloved actors in the industry.
People who do not live here and do not run businesses in Clearwater and really do not know and see what we as locals see and experience are making statements that really should not be. We should all try to make our city and our county the best it can be and for that it takes all of us regardless of religion faith, race, etc.
The grassroots of making this great is for all of us to stand together and work together and make our city great. The amazing changes that can be done for a small thing from our city is just greater than for any one group person or media to have this not happen. After seeing business lasting three months on Cleveland Street and property owners discounting properties to get tenants in, how can we change that?
Not by events once a month or draws once a month. We need consistent foot traffic. We need more than just a band playing in the park to make our city great again, a city that I love, live, and bleed for.
The amazing Gensler group has amazing drafts and blueprints for our city that will make any city jealous world wide.
We would be the amazing city of Clearwater and proud to live and do business here with the transformation that can be so easily done by the help we could get.
Observer writer John Bonazzo had a fun piece yesterday about Jenna Elfman’s disastrous “Ask Me Anything” session over at Reddit that was intended to promote her new ABC series, Imaginary Mary.
Even before this week’s premiere, the show was getting some poor reviews and it seemed like another bad choice by Elfman, who has had a string of bad luck since her days on Dharma and Greg.
But even with all that as background, things went far worse than anyone might have expected.
As Bonazzo pointed out, two things happened.
First, a bunch of shills who had signed up for Reddit accounts only hours before the AMA lofted a bunch of softball questions — which Elfman answered.
And a bunch of riled up Redditors who could see what was going on reacted angrily and hit Elfman with a lot of pointed questions about her involvement in Scientology — which she did not answer.
But we’ll differ with the people Bonazzo quoted who assumed that Scientology was behind what was going on. We actually don’t think it was the church behind the shills asking Elfman the softball questions.
That’s also the conclusion our Celebrity Centre source came to. You remember our CC source, the same one who said that Jenna was one of the “Bitter Enders” who will never leave the church.
Here’s what our source said after looking over the charred remains of Jenna’s AMA:
“The AMA thing I’m sure was a bright idea of her public relations people or perhaps the public relations department at ABC,” he says. Friends and family were probably rounded up to help out, he adds.
He points out that Scientologists live in such a bubble, they wouldn’t know about Reddit or what an AMA is. And even Jenna, he says, is probably unaware of just how bad the press is these days for Scientology.
“She just got a real glimpse of how Scientology is perceived in the real world,” he says. “But I don’t think the Church was involved in having shills go on Reddit.”
Aaron Smith-Levin on how to speak Scientologese
Says Aaron: “Let’s say you want to engage a Scientologist friend, family member or acquaintance in a conversation about Scientology in order (hopefully) to open their eyes to things they are likely not aware of. If you want to be taken seriously by the Scientologist, it’s important that any Scientology-speak words one attempts to use are used correctly. This video is the first of a series I’ll be doing on how to use certain terms the same way a Scientologist would use them.”
Countdown to Denver!
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
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E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
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