Clearwater officials bemoan lack of progress on land talks with Scientology

Until there’s a breakthrough, “I just don’t think I can really trust them,” one City Council member said of the church.

The Tampa Bay Times/January 14, 2023

By Tracey McManus

Clearwater — The day after the City Council fired City Manager Jon Jennings and appointed Jennifer Poirrier as his interim successor, a series of blocked calls appeared on Poirrier’s cell.

She picked up on the fourth “No ID” call in a row. It was Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige.

“He called my personal phone, so I don’t know how he got that number,” she said.

Miscavige called on Jan. 6, Poirrier said, to explain he would soon arrange a meeting to catch her up on the discussions he’d been having with Jennings about the church’s plans for its downtown real estate.

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The show of urgency from Scientology’s leader comes in contrast to the lack of progress on those plans despite 14 months of negotiations between Jennings and Miscavige.

Dozens of downtown properties are being held vacant by companies tied to Scientology, a situation Jennings said he was trying to remedy through a land swap with the church. But council members have expressed frustration that a deal has yet to materialize. They also said they are in the dark about the status of the negotiations with Miscavige because Jennings never disclosed details with them.

“Until I see some kind of something from the church ... I just don’t think I can really trust them,” council member David Allbritton said at a work session on Monday.

“If they really wanted to have a vibrant downtown, why aren’t they doing something?” Allbritton said. “Are they waiting for us? I mean look what we’ve done. We’ve got Imagine Clearwater, and we’ve got development on the bluff planned. There’s a lot of things that are happening on our end, nothing on their end.”

Jennings spoke regularly on the phone with Miscavige, in some periods on a weekly basis, he told the Tampa Bay Times in previous interviews. It was a new era, since Miscavige went years without talking to city officials consistently before Jennings’ arrival in November 2021.

Jennings and Miscavige had six in-person meetings, the last held at Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel on May 29, 2022, according to public records. For their other five meetings, which took place between November 2021 and March 2022, Jennings and Miscavige met at a church office on Drew Street and North Fort Harrison Avenue, always after 5 p.m.

Jennings did not respond to voicemail on Friday asking for an update on those discussions. But he previously said the swap the two were negotiating potentially included the church receiving a 1.4-acre city lot on the downtown waterfront and Clearwater receiving Scientology-owned land that could help the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

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