Clearwater’s new Scientology strategy: No more ‘cloak-and-dagger’ dealings.

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Clearwater leaders are no longer hiding their impatience as blocks of downtown properties tied to the Church of Scientology remain empty, despite years of closed-door talks.

With a majority of new members, the City Council began discussing government priorities with city administrators at a retreat Tuesday and aired plans for awakening downtown with or without Scientology’s help.

“I feel like we’re begging for collaboration, for cooperation, for open dialogue with our downtown partners and I feel like we don’t necessarily get the result that we’re hoping for,” said Mike Mannino, one of three council members elected in March.

The city is already in talks with Pinellas County government to redevelop up to 14 county buildings into uses like retail and housing, a prospect they said could help counter Scientology’s dominance in downtown. But for the first time publicly, city officials talked about their desire to see Scientology convert some of its street-level religious offices into spaces the public can use too.

“I like the idea of being much more transparent going forward,” Assistant City Manager Michael Delk told officials gathered at the Morningside Recreation Complex. “I think sometimes it almost feels like we’re in this cloak-and-dagger experience with Scientology, and I think that’s a bad place to be frankly.”

Over the last two and a half years, multiple city officials have spoken with Scientology representatives in private meetings and phone calls about land swaps or other proposals to activate buildings, but no deal has materialized.

“When it comes to negotiating, it takes two sides to want to work out terms and I just don’t think there’s any interest right now (from the church) in negotiating,” said Mayor Bruce Rector, also elected in March.

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