The Flag Issue:Celebrating Scientology's New Spiritual Center
Making a Prosperous Clearwater
Robust, financially stable, healthy—these are words often used today to describe Clearwater.
Four decades ago, it was one of many small and midsize cities on the Florida coast where suburban housing tracts and shopping malls on the outskirts of town had created a migration from the city center. As the Clearwater Sun reported in 1976, downtown was “in the throes of a slow, undignified death.”
To reverse that decline, residents and merchants formed the Clearwater Downtown Partnership. After years of planning, redevelopment studies and hard work by many civic groups, Clearwater has blossomed into a prosperous vacation vista.
Since arriving in Clearwater in 1975, the Church of Scientology has grown from two buildings to 56 to accommodate the Scientologists who visit the city for religious services. The new Flag Building is bringing even more visitors, and the impact is positive for the city, economically and culturally.
In the renovation and construction of more than 1.5 million square feet of Church buildings over the past 10 years, some 600 construction firms and vendors have been contracted, generating millions of dollars for the local economy.
“There are a lot of things going for Clearwater … but the city would have nowhere the quality and quantity of growth if it were not for the Scientologists.”
A visible impact in the community comes from the Church’s dedication to preserving historic buildings and improving the aesthetics of the environment, including meticulous landscaping. The recently unveiled Fort Harrison Park, a 38,264-square-foot walking street just south of the Fort Harrison, with 75 trees, a pergola and a fountain, exemplifies this.
As any church, the Church of Scientology pays property tax on its facilities not used for core religious services—restaurants and lodging, for example. In 2012, the Church was the largest property taxpayer in downtown Clearwater and also paid over $1 million in local and state “tourist” tax on room rentals.
In addition to tax revenue, dollars are generated for the local economy through food purchased for Church hotels and dining rooms and utilities for all facilities. Scientologists who visit Clearwater support the city’s restaurants, theaters, shops and the beach, and their spending generates jobs and revenue.
In 2011, the city retained Theory Into Practice (TIP) Strategies of Austin, Texas, to advise on how to improve the growth and economy of downtown. A TIP consultant told city officials, “There’s no shortage of information coming out about the role that the Church of Scientology plays in the community and in fact beyond the community.”
Another TIP Strategies associate said, “Some of the most dynamic and innovative businesses that we met with over the course of this process are here directly as related to the Church of Scientology. Their members came to Clearwater to be closer to the Church … It is a tremendous positive.”
Similarly, Benecke Economics, a New Jersey firm, conducted an exhaustive survey in 2007 regarding the Scientology impact on Clearwater. Accounting for inflation—but not for the huge growth in Church activities since the study—Scientology pumps at least $670 million annually into the local economy.
“The level of activity will continue to grow over the next several years as the planned new and expanded facilities are completed and Scientologists come to Clearwater in increasing numbers to use the excellent facilities,” Benecke reported. “We project the impact of the Church on Clearwater and Pinellas County to exceed one billion dollars within a decade.”
Micro Economics Ltd., a St. Louis consulting firm, found similar economic impact, noting that Scientology accounts for about 7.5 percent of the total income for the Clearwater metro area. Micro concluded, “The stabilizing presence of the Church and its many out-of-town visitors on downtown Clearwater is particularly important, as it makes this area a very attractive place for new businesses, particularly retail and restaurant establishments, to locate.”
Yet another infusion into the local economy comes from the businesses owned or managed by Scientologists. These 300 companies purchase $420 million in goods and services annually and bring hundreds of jobs, about 60 percent of which are held by non-Scientologists.
Today, through the efforts of many, Clearwater is a growing and productive city. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco noted, “There are a lot of things going for Clearwater … but the city would have nowhere the quality and quantity of growth if it were not for the Scientologists.”