Clearwater -- The Church of Scientology and the city have forged a deal to swap land downtown so both organizations can consolidate blocks of property.
Commissioners will vote June 21 whether to approve the proposal, which would give the church two vacant parcels now used for parking while the city would get a smaller lot with a building on it.
If the deal is approved, the church would own an entire block, while the city would own the majority of another block across the street. Specifically, the land the city would get is between the city's police and fire departments. The land the city would give to the church is on a block where the church plans to build a parking garage to serve its new Flag Building, which is under construction.
City Attorney Pam Akin and Ed Armstrong, a Clearwater attorney who represents the church, said Monday that they think the deal is fair. "I think it's a very good deal for the city in terms of dollars to dollars," said Akin, who thinks this is the first time the city would swap land with Scientology.
There are no longer limitations on the city's ability to make the trade, Akin said. Last year commissioners repealed an ordinance that had prohibited Clearwater from giving property to a non-profit group or church, even in a trade for other property.
The city would give the church two vacant lots that total about 22,300 square feet south of Franklin Street and east of Garden Avenue. The land is worth $156,500, according to city estimates. One of the tracts, called parking lot No. 25, also has 37 metered and permitted parking spaces that generate about $4,000 annually for Clearwater. The land that the church would trade is an 11,345-square-foot parcel at 612 Franklin St., according to the city.
After discussing the proposed land swap with the city for months, the church bought the property -- the former Cricket Early Learning Center -- in April for $365,000. The city had looked into acquiring the land previously, Akin said, but found it to be too expensive.
The former learning center needs to be treated for termites and has to be renovated, including replacing its child-sized toilets. But then it would be suitable for office space, Akin said.
Several city departments have been interested in the space, Akin said, particularly the police and fire departments on either side of the building.
"I don't think we have concrete plans for the use of it right now, but it's right in the middle of property that we otherwise own," Akin said. "So I think long term, it's a piece of property that's well-placed for our use."