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CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology is a visible, viable Clearwater institution, church spokesman Milt Wolfe said Tuesday morning: "We're here. We're going to stay here."
And in an attempt to make that fact more palatable, the church released a "financial report" during a Tuesday press conference, contending that the controversial organization spent exactly $10,028,000 in the Tampa Bay area in 1980.
Reading from a prepared press release in a chapel inside the church's Fort Harrison Hotel headquarters, Wolfe said the report "was initially done to find out where we stand as contributing members of this community."
Included in the $10-million figure, Wolfe said, is more than $700,000 in "tourist dollars" spent by visitors to the church in 1980.
"These visitors come from all over the United States and 20 other countries around the world," he said. "They come for pastoral counseling and training to increase their understanding of life and to learn how to better communicate."
WOLFE REFUSED, however, when asked by several members of the press, to open the church's books for verification of the figures.
"That's not specifically open to the public," Wolfe said. "I don't know of any other church that would do it."
He said the report was compiled over a "couple of months" and "involved a lot a work."
"The records are all over the place," he said. "(The public) can choose to believe (the financial disclosure) or not to believe it."
The church's expenditures included average monthly payments of $55,500 in utilities, $660,000 in yearly telephone bills and more than $190,000 in yearly equipment rental.
But the rosy financial picture offered by the church failed to impress Ed Robbins, executive vice president of the Great Clearwater Chamber of Commerce.
"IF THEY are not going to allow anyone to verity their figures, my first reaction is 'baloney,' " Robbins said. "Relative to tourism, tourists are not attracted here because of the church. Tourists come here because of the quality of life and because of the efforts of the Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce, its members and the Tourist Development Council. If anything, the church is scaring off $700,000 in tourism."
Robbins, who took over the executive vice president's position from Jim Parker two weeks ago, said that, in the time he has been here, "I have yet to meet one single individual who is glad they (Scientologists) are here."
Robbins said that, "based on re search," the church is "more a negative influence than a positive influence on the development of the area."
Wolfe termed the financial report — the first of its kind ever released by the Church of Scientology — as "unusual."
"It's a unique situation," he said, "(but) I can see us doing it regularly."
He said the idea to release a financial statement originated in Clearwater, although approval was sought from church leaders in California, where the church was founded.
WOLFE SAID the church owns five other properties in the Clearwater area besides the Fort Harrison Hotel. They are The Clearwater Building (the old Bank of Clearwater Building on Cleveland Street), three motels and the West Coast Building on N Fort Harrison Avenue.
Wolfe said those properties are only the beginning. "There is no question whatsoever that we are expanding," he said. "We are definitely going to acquire more property; no question. Two major needs are office space and classrooms."