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Mapping Scientology's Expanding Footprint in Clearwater, Florida

The Tampa Bay Times has published the results of an ambitious investigation, complete with an interactive feature that documents the rise of the Church of Scientology as the predominant landowner in Clearwater, Florida.
October 28, 2019, 1pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge
J. Bicking

The "Clear Takeover" feature published recently by the Tampa Bay Times includes an article by Tracey McManus and some cutting edge interactive graphic work by Eli Murray.

The graphic follows a chronological timeline to show the quickly expanding footprint of the Church of Scientology in the city of Clearwater, Florida, starting with a hotel purchased in 1975 and continuing through a recent spate of land purchases, starting in 2017. The church has doubled its footprint in the past three years, showing its most obvious impacts in the city's downtown.  Along the city's main artery, Cleveland Street, 22 of 33 buildings leading to the waterfront have ties to Scientology. 

"The Church of Scientology and companies run by its members spent $103 million over the past three years buying up vast sections of downtown Clearwater," writes McManus, after the graceful and illuminating interactive graphic concludes. Now the secretive church is "firmly in control of the area's future."

The extent of Scientology's inroads into the community were not previously known, and these new facts are reported as a result of an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times. 

The political implications of Scientology-connected landownership have already been apparent: "The land grab started as tensions grew between the church and the Clearwater City Council. Each had proposed major redevelopment projects, designed to lure new business into the empty storefronts that surround the city-owned waterfront and the church’s spiritual headquarters. Then the council interfered with a land deal that Scientology demanded for its plan. The church stopped communicating with the city."

The question of whether these purchases are related and potentially part of a coordinated campaign is still up for debate, despite the Tamp Bay Times attempting to acquire more information the subject.

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Published on Monday, October 28, 2019 in Tampa Bay Times
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