Clearwater City Council voted unanimously Thursday to 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.
They offered to sell the waterfront property to the city for $4.25 million.
But the Church of Scientology had 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 included retail, hotels and paying for a façade overhaul on Cleveland Street. However, the church has stated that the investment was contingent on its ability to buy the aquarium property.
Clearwater's mayor 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.