Scientology buys prime parcel in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — In one of its biggest purchases in years, the Church of Scientology has added 5 acres to its already defining downtown presence.

The $10-million cash purchase signals the demise of an ambitious waterfront condominium project proposed by a group of Scientology parishioners who assembled parcels immediately north of downtown four years ago and shared visions of turning downtown Clearwater into another Naples.

Despite having no experience in condo development, Triangle Development partners Ben Kugler and Ron Pollack hoped to ride the condo boom that played out in the first part of this decade. They put forth fanciful plans for 325 water-view luxury units and a row of tony retail shops along busy Fort Harrison Avenue.

But like so many condo plans, the project sputtered in a weak real estate market. After defaulting on terms of an $18-million loan from Mercantile Bank, Triangle asked earlier this year for yet another extension, and to renegotiate.

The bank balked, and instead decided to cut its losses and force a sale.

Triangle had presold just 55 units, Pollack said, about half the number needed for the project’s first phase. “The market folded up on us,” he said Wednesday.

Pollack said Mercantile asked him and his partners to contact the church to see if it had interest in the land.

Church officials initially declined. The church, which makes Clearwater its international spiritual headquarters, already was in the midst of a $120-million rebuilding campaign downtown.

“We didn’t really have any (expansion) plans when they first contacted us about a property acquisition,” said church spokeswoman Pat Harney. “But eventually we took a look at it and said okay.”

The church isn’t sure what it will do with the property, Harney said. It owns several properties immediately to the south.

The church’s $10-million bid was the only serious offer, Pollack said. He and his investors spent $12-million assembling the properties, he said.

Advertisements