Clearwater City Council will vote Thursday night on whether the city should buy a prime piece of downtown real estate.
The 1.4-acre vacant lot next to City Hall was once intended to be the new home of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. But that plan was scrapped when the aquarium failed to raise enough money to build a new facility.
Now they want to sell the waterfront property to the city for $4.25 million.
But the Church of Scientology has offered $15 million for the parcel with an eye on expanding a 13-story religious retreat adjacent to the property.
But the aquarium has rejected that offer.
Scientology leader David Miscavige met privately with several city council members last month to pitch a church plan to revitalize downtown. That includes retail, hotels and paying for a façade overhaul on Cleveland Street. However, the church says that investment is contingent on its ability to buy the aquarium property.
Clearwater's mayor meanwhile has said it’s in the best interest of the city to manage downtown development.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Church of Scientology has accumulated more than $260 million in real estate under its name since it arrived in Clearwater in 1975. The church has tax-exempt status, but any property used for commercial retail is taxed.
Scientologists from around the world come to Clearwater, considered to be the church's spiritual center.
Clearwater City Council is scheduled to vote on the land purchase at its regular meeting Thursday night at Clearwater City Hall.