Scientologists Pack Up Center For Relocation

The Tampa Tribune/September 21, 2006
By Baird Helgeson

Seminole Heights - A Church of Scientology mission has moved out of a residential area because of zoning concerns.

Milton James, director of the Mission of Old Tampa Bay, is relocating the center from a rented house at 902 E. Louisiana Ave. in Southeast Seminole Heights after learning the property could not be used commercially.

James said he is moving the Scientology mission about two miles to a rented building at 6506 N. Florida Ave. The one-year lease begins Oct. 1, but James has begun to offer introductory lectures.

James, 58, of Clearwater, said he is excited about the new location.

"The place allows us to help more people because more people can see it," he said.

The mission on Louisiana never fully opened because of concerns that city guidelines prevented the house from being used for anything other than housing, said restaurant owner Phil Alessi Jr., who owns the house.

To meet city requirements, Alessi needed to create a buffer between the building and adjacent homes, and ensure adequate parking. That was more hassle than Alessi said he wanted to endure, so he released James from the six-month lease.

The mission on Florida will be a departure from the previous center, featuring an African motif along with the usual teaching materials and pictures of church founder L. Ron Hubbard.

"The purpose is to help the entire community, but I am especially focused on the black community," said James, who is president of the Florida chapter of Ebony Awakenings, an organization of black Scientologists. "I want to teach them that they don't have to be dependent, that they can be independent."

James said he is training the staff and volunteers who will teach courses on finances, literacy and life skills. Courses are $25 to $125. The mission will be open from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Some neighbors were concerned the center on Louisiana, which opened in June, would become a parking nightmare. Others worried about living near a mission with ties to the Church of Scientology, which has its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater and has drawn sharp criticism for its secretive nature.

Christie Hess, vice president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, said she fears James is essentially bringing another social service organization to a neighborhood that has plenty of them.

"From a social service standpoint, I don't think they will be welcome," Hess said.

Phillip Hurley, owner of the building that will house the new mission, said James has been a joy to work with.

"I don't have any problems with them," he said.

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