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Scientology breaks ground with lasers, fireworks, music

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1998


CLEARWATER -- The Church of Scientology broke ground on the future site of its massive new building Saturday night in a Hollywood-style ceremony that featured green lasers, colored spotlights, fireworks and shooting flames, all choreographed with pulsating song.

An estimated 6,000 Scientologists, many of them seated on a giant temporary grandstand, roared their approval and stood to welcome their Los Angeles-based ecclesiastical leader, David Miscavige.

Church officials said the six-story building in the 200 block of S Fort Harrison Avenue will have 370,000 square feet, making it one of the largest structures in Pinellas County and the largest construction project ever undertaken by Scientology.

Although details such as parking and permits still need to be worked out with the city, Scientology expects to clear the 2-acre site and begin other early construction work Monday.

The building will imitate the 1920s Mediterranean Revival style of the neighboring Fort Harrison Hotel, Scientology's signature property in Clearwater, which served as an 11-story backdrop to the ceremony.

The church will use the $45-million building for Scientology counseling and training.

Miscavige called it "a watershed" for Scientology, and said it will symbolize Scientology's efforts to improve Clearwater. He cited the city's redevelopment motto, "One City, One Future," saying: "And that future most definitely includes the Church of Scientology, now, tomorrow and forever."

The event was a cheery respite from controversy for the church, which was criminally charged nine days ago in the 1995 death of one of its Clearwater members, Lisa McPherson.

Scientology prides itself on the glitzy productions it stages during major gatherings of parishioners. Said church official Ben Shaw: "We never do anything just mundane."

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