Today I attended the meeting held by the folks hoping to develop Clearwater's Bayfront. It was a quite interesting time.
As I entered the conference center for the meeting, I met a man on a cell phone who seemed excited to see me. "Are you filming for a guy named Bob?" he asked. I pretended I had trouble hearing and asked him to repeat it but he said "nevermind" and I continued on my way.
As one of the early arrivals I got a choice seat near the front. The presentation was beginning as I looked back to see Al Buttner seated in the rear.
The developers laid out a rosie picture of what life will be like when they convert the bayfront into a bustling downtown area with businesses, cinemas, parks and a botanical garden. The key was to get people to live downtown in the new beautiful, exciting Clearwater. Without people residing downtown, they explained, none of this would work.
When the floor was opened to questions, I asked if any studies have been done to see if people are reluctant to come downtown because of Scientology. The developers were prepared for this question and it seems someone had asked it at the early morning session as well.
They explained that now the Scientologists are the only ones downtown so if you go there it is natural to feel uncomfortable. But when the development is done 10 - 25,000 people will be milling around downtown and the Scientologists won't even be noticed.
I then asked about the housing. I said that the folks who want to live downtown are the Scientologists who come from all over the world to their Mecca. They will be glad to snap up all the housing to be near Flag and others will remain at a distance. The developers thought this was nonsense.
Since we were on the topic, I also mentioned that none of the fancy drawings or computer animations of the downtown area included the new Scientology Super Power building, the tallest in the city with a giant Scientology cross designed to be viewed from anywhere in the city. The developer said it wasn't added because they are not building it, others are.
After the meeting, a reporter from the St. Pete Times came over to ask for a further quote about Scientology. As we spoke, Al Buttner came over and stood by our sides. I introduced the Rev. and he stood and listened as I spoke but after ten seconds or so, the reporter told him she couldn't concentrate with him there and told him to leave. He did so as I explained that I felt the city was spending an enormous amount of money and it was largely going to benefit Scientology who would continue to dominate the downtown.
She then went to Al Buttner for a comment and he immediately told her I was arrested in Chicago and had a restraining order against me.
As Al talked to the reporter, I mingled with the crowd, several of whom told me that I said what many people were thinking and thanked me for speaking up.
While talking to two nice women, I was explaining how Scientology uses religion as a shield. Buttner was by then listening from the side and he raced over, very indignant, and proclaimed "I have been a devout Scientologist for 20 years and I am offended to hear such a thing."
He then looked me right in the eyes and very strongly said "Why don't you just LEAVE!!!"
I said "That's the difference between us, Al. I ask "Why don't you just tell the truth and you ask why don't you just leave."
Al said "I always tell the truth."
I swear to you that I didn't burst into laughter at this...but I stood my ground. Al was getting visibly upset and in his right hand he was holding a cup of coffee and it was shaking violently.
I asked him, "Why can't you speak to me without your hand shaking? Can't you use your OT powers to stop your hand from shaking?"
A scientologist woman near Al let out a gasp and said "Oh, that's a low blow."
"Perhaps it was," I replied "but I meant it."
Al looked at me and said "If Hitler was here you would be his good friend" or words to that effect. One woman winked at me in support.
When I came back to the office and shared my report we decided to take back a little bit of Clearwater and stage a picket. So around 5:30, armed with frames of the video I shot in December when the cult painted red dots on the sidewalks, we went out to protest on the church's side of the street for the first time in months. Using the pictures as guides, Bob and I made sure to stay outside of the area Scientology had once illegally painted on the public sidewalks.
Peter and Patricia came along as well and we managed to get a LOT of support from passing motorists. The loud honking of horns was heard throughout the area as we blanketed Cleveland in front of the Bank Building for an hour during dinner, driving Al Buttner to distraction as he tried to deal with the SP's who just won't leave.
Grand downtown plan entices many
Clearwater residents embrace the idea of upscale shopping and redesigned buildings and parks.
By MAUREEN BYRNE
St. Petersburg Times
April 29, 2000
CLEARWATER -- Patty Zimmerman says she is tired of having to leave Clearwater every time she wants to visit an upscale shopping area, such as Hyde Park in Tampa with its trendy stores and restaurants.
She's hoping that will change soon.
Zimmerman, 52, was one of 200 people who attended a public meeting Friday afternoon. They gathered in an upstairs conference room of Harborview Center to hear developers talk about their multimillion-dollar revitalization plan for downtown Clearwater.
"I'm so excited," she said. "The fact that we now can have something down here, you know, like a regular city. If this happens, it would put Clearwater on the map."
Many in the audience shared Zimmerman's enthusiasm for the $300-million project, which would include a state-of-the-art cinema, 1,200 housing units, more than 150,000 square feet of shops and the quadrupling of Coachman Park.
"I think it's beautiful," said Rose Morgan, 79, who moved to Florida from New York City. "How can you not like that?"
Wayne Misler is sold on the plan, too.
"I live on the beach and I don't find it worthwhile to cross the bridge and come downtown," said the 56-year-old retired jeweler.
Pam Marks is co-chairwoman for Citizens for a Better Clearwater, which supports downtown redevelopment.
"I want this for them," she said, pointing to her 5-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
As president of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, Mike Meidel was pleased that most in attendance at Friday's meeting seemed in agreement with developers.
"Everybody seems to be very supportive," he said. "I think (the developers) thought it out and they've helped develop a feeling of trust."
Rounds of applause erupted throughout the two-hour meeting. And those who participated in an exit poll overwhelmingly supported the proposed design.
Though 625 people attended three town meetings Thursday and Friday, only 178 filled out questionnaires. Twenty-four respondents were undecided. Twenty said they would vote against moving forward with the plan and 135 people said they would approve the public-private partnership in a referendum July 11.
"Our main concern is that there is a total commitment from citizens and the government for this plan," said West Palm Beach businessman George de Guardiola, who partnered with David Frisbie, also from West Palm Beach, for the massive redevelopment plan.
If the public votes against the project, the developers said they would not devise another plan. There would be no second chance, de Guardiola said.
Mayor Brian Aungst hopes the residents approve the plan.
"We want to keep up with the times," he said. "We don't want to be New York City, but we want to enhance our strengths."
"I'm going to be the No. 1 cheerleader for this as long as the financial thing works out," he said.
It is the financial aspect of the plan that disturbs Anne Garris, a longtime Clearwater Beach resident and spokeswoman of Save the Bayfront, a group that opposes commercial development on the city's waterfront.
Garris said she favors downtown redevelopment and is pleased that developers have kept the bayfront open, but she doesn't think spending possibly $40-million in public funds is a good idea.
"I like the way Dunedin has done it, a little bit at a time and at their own pace," she said. "I'm tired of us trying to be another West Palm Beach or whomever we're trying to be."
Others had concerns, too.
John King, a lifelong Clearwater resident and a manager for the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, wondered where the group's 1,200 delegates would meet next year for their convention if the Harborview Center is gone.
"They're making a big mistake if they don't have an adequate convention facility," said King, 41.
De Guardiola told the audience that 20,000 square feet of meeting space would be part of a 200-room hotel. He has proposed converting Calvary Baptist Church's sanctuary into a grand hotel lobby. But there's no guarantee a high-end hotel would offer discount rates like the Harborview Center for non-profit groups.
Irene Gaccek, the city's fire inspector, asked the developers how emergency vehicles could get to people in the park. Drew Street along the waterfront would be replaced with a wide sidewalk and the west end of Cleveland Street would be transformed into a series of steps descending to the waterfront. Frisbie assured her that the major pathways in the park could serve as roads in emergency situations.
A few people in the audience asked whether the project would still go forward if a new bridge never materializes. Plans call for transforming the Memorial Causeway into a pier with a seafood restaurant at the end.
Frisbie said the plan would survive without a new bridge, but there would be no pier and the botanical garden would shrink. Yet the redesign of Cleveland Street would remain, he said.
Mark Bunker, who works for Church of Scientology critic Bob Minton, expressed concern that Scientologists may be the ones who benefit from the redevelopment. The spiritual headquarters for the Church of Scientology are in downtown Clearwater.
Frisbie said people who are now intimidated with Scientology's strong presence in downtown would feel otherwise once the area was redeveloped. Scientologists would simply blend in with the thousands of people who would flock to downtown daily.
"I think your fears are way overblown," he said. "I promise you if you create this urban environment your fears will disappear."