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Building 'cornerstone' in speech

That was the point of reference in a Monday welcoming of the Church of Scientology.

By Helen Huntley, Times Staff Writer
Published March 21, 2007


St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce president John T. Long III welcomed the Church of Scientology's new recruitment center to St. Petersburg on Monday as "another great cornerstone of our community."

Tuesday he clarified his comments, saying the "cornerstone" he referred to was the historic downtown building the church renovated, not the church itself.

"They put $1.6-million in a building that really needed help," he said. Long said he doesn't know if the church will be an economic asset, but he hopes for the best.

"The verdict is still out; they just opened," he said. "It would be my hope that anything that comes into the community would be an asset."

The eight volunteer business executives who, with Long, make up the chamber's executive committee say they welcome the church, controversial history or not, just as they would any new business moving to town.

Responses from chamber board members:

Jed Wilkinson (past chairman), executive vice president, First State Bank
"Anything that adds to the economic viability of our city and in particular our downtown, we welcome with open arms."

Charley Harris (chair-elect and vice chairman), partner, Trenam Kemker
"It's really not for the chamber to judge the appropriateness or inappropriateness of a particular member's business, so long as the business is legal, and the church is.... It's not the faith or the business that I personally support, but I think it's important to our downtown community."

Jim Newman (treasurer and vice chairman), managing partner, Gregory, Sharer & Stuart CPAs
"I really don't have the answer to that (how the recruitment center will boost the economy). I will tell you that they've renovated the building. ... It appears to me, when (John Long) says they have another great cornerstone, he's talking about the building."

Mary Lallucci (vice chair), senior vice president, Right Management
"I live in Clearwater, very close to downtown Clearwater, so the Scientologists have had a strong presence in my community in the six years I've lived there, and (they) have done nothing but add value to the community."

George Rahdert (legal counsel and ex-officio board member), partner, Rahdert, Steele, Bryan, Bole & Reynolds
"My expertise lies in historic preservation and I'm very happy about another historic building being preserved. ... They (Scientologists) are going to participate in the local economy and it's something everyone needs to adjust to."

Dick Averitt (vice chairman), CEO, Raymond James Financial Services
Did not return calls seeking comment.

[Last modified March 20, 2007, 22:41:27]

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