For residents and public officials in the "spiritual home" of Scientology, the presence of the church and its followers is hard to ignore. But it is also easy for the city to enjoy the economic benefit the church brings.
"Mostly, folks in this picturesque Gulf Coast city have come to accept that Clearwater is to Scientologists what Salt Lake City is to Mormons, what Mecca is to Muslims. Though not everybody is happy about it."
"Today, downtown Clearwater is an international Scientology stronghold and a destination for elite members (including celebrity devotees like Tom Cruise and John Travolta) who come from all over the world for the highest levels of the church's spiritual training."
"The empire's thumbprint on the downtown corridor is considerable and conspicuous, from the uniformed church workers on the streets every day to the two dozen or so Scientology-owned buildings and other properties in the low-slung skyline, many of them fully or partially exempt from property taxes."
"Hibbard, mayor of the city of around 110,000 residents, can hardly forget that the church is the largest private property owner downtown."