I'm a Florida reporter who covers Scientology. I just revealed a series of mysterious land deals that give the church control of a mid-sized city’s downtown. AMA.
Hello Reddit, I'm Tracey McManus. For the last four years, I've reported on the Church of Scientology for the Tampa Bay Times.
For the last six months, I've been investigating a spate of real estate purchases in downtown Clearwater, Fla. The Church of Scientology and companies run by its members have spent $103 million since 2017 buying about 100 properties. They now own most commercial property on every block within walking distance of the waterfront. We built a graphic demonstrating just how little is left.
Downtown Clearwater is next to a beautiful waterfront just over the bridge from Clearwater Beach, a national tourist destination. Yet downtown is dotted with empty storefronts. The purchases took off as the city was developing a $64 million plan to turn the area around. We don’t know whether these purchases will help the city’s goal.
The church's tumultuous history in the city starts in 1975, when Scientology bought a downtown hotel with a straw corporation, secretly moved in and wrote plans to take control. I recap the whole history here.
In April 2017, the city snubbed Scientology Leader David Miscavige. Miscavige cut off all communication. Then LLCs controlled by church parishioners began buying up property at an unprecedented rate. In just three years, the downtown footprint of property tied to the church doubled.
The church has declined to speak with me and criticized my newspaper for portraying its members as “mindless robots.” But defectors from the church and city leaders believe there is little chance parishioners are making all these deals without the church’s involvement.
Times data reporter and graphics wiz u/elimurray is also around to answer questions about how he made the graphics (check out another amazing project here. You may remember him from his popular AMA on Zombie Campaigns last year).
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