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Scientologist withdraws bid for church

The woman says she will seek another Largo property for a Scientology mission because the congregation now using the building is interested in buying it.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001


LARGO -- A wealthy Scientologist has withdrawn plans to buy a church in downtown Largo in which she hoped to open a Scientology mission.

Kathy Feshbach said she did not feel comfortable about completing the deal after learning another church, which had been offered the chance to buy the property before her, is still interested in buying it.

She said she will focus on finding another site in Largo for a mission.

The 86-year-old building at 160 Sixth St. SW is owned by Abundant Life Ministries. Grace Community Fellowship Church, which wants to buy the property, currently worships in the 7,600-square-foot building.

The Rev. Howard Brockway, pastor of Grace Community Fellowship Church, recently set up a bank account for donations to buy the building.

"(Brockway) should have it," Feshbach said. "It's not my issue."

Abundant Life Ministries Pastor Anthony McDaniel said he met with Grace Community Fellowship representatives Monday and offered to sell the property to Grace for $389,000. Grace representatives told McDaniel they would respond by Thursday.

McDaniel said Grace believed it had the exclusive right to buy the property, a claim McDaniel disputed. Grace Community Fellowship officials could not be reached for comment.

"We're trying to resolve this without going to the lawyers," McDaniel said.

Feshbach and the two partners that had been working with her to buy the church and the house behind it had offered Abundant Life Ministries $389,000 for the two properties. The offer was withdrawn late last month.

Feshbach, a Scientologist for 18 years whose family has been a major contributor to the Church of Scientology and its related efforts, said she is looking for another Largo property for the mission.

The mission's purpose will be to meet the needs of new Scientologists. Feshbach said it will be staffed with five to 10 people and will have a bookstore. Classes, spiritual counseling and training will be offered, Feshbach said.

Feshbach said she has not talked to any other Largo landowners about buying property to open a mission.

On Tuesday, Feshbach met with Mayor Bob Jackson and City Commissioner Marty Shelby to discuss her plans and allay any fears they may have about a Scientology mission in Largo. After Feshbach's plans became public last month, several city commissioners and some residents said they were vehemently opposed to a Scientology mission in Largo, citing the sometimes acrimonious relationship between the Church of Scientology and the city of Clearwater.

The city is spending $4.2-million on road improvements and beautification efforts to West Bay Drive, which is near the properties for sale. City officials hope the improvements to West Bay Drive and the sale of nearly 8 acres in downtown Largo to a developer will spark the economic redevelopment of the area. City officials were worried that negative publicity about Scientology may scare some businesses away from setting up shop in downtown Largo.

"When you envision a redevelopment of a downtown, you envision businesses that will spur economic growth," said Commissioner Mary Laurance. "I just want to stick to that, and hearing about a Scientology mission couldn't have been further from what I envision for downtown Largo."

Feshbach told Jackson there are no plans by the Church of Scientology to create a major presence in downtown Largo by purchasing large strips of land.

"The international headquarters are in Clearwater," she said. "I don't think we need any more."

Jackson was pleased to hear that from Feshbach.

"I feel better to get assurances that they would not expand their operations," he said.

- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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