Scientology seems to have a stranglehold on downtown Clearwater, Florida.

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Most of the people I saw walking downtown wore the uniform of the Church of Scientology. Their spiritual world headquarters is two blocks away down Fort Harrison Avenue.

Most of the vacancies here are in buildings owned by the church or its parishioners. The Tampa Bay Times reported that 15 of the 24 empty storefronts along Cleveland Street are owned by one company with ties to the church.

“We’ve not presented ourselves very well and Scientology has a large presence in downtown Clearwater,” the mayor said. “Everyone knows that – that’s not breaking news either. But we’ve kind of let that narrative dominate the storyline.”

Rector and the newly-changed city council held a retreat last week to air out plans to give downtown a kick start – whether the Church of Scientology works with them or not.

The church has expressed interest in the past to swap land with the city so they can expand their spiritual headquarters. But Rector said he’s not sure that trading properties would be in the city’s best interest.

“Certainly we’d love to see them, and all property owners who are not doing anything with their property to help us revitalize the entire community,” the mayor said. “But I think we just need to improve our communications with them and, and then if there’s some deal to be had that, that really benefits the citizens of Clearwater, then we would be interested in talking with them about that.”

“(Our citizens) They understand that Scientology has been here for 35 years and it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said. “But they would really like to see a balance downtown Clearwater. And right now, we don’t have that balance yet, but we’re working very hard to get there.”

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