Last week, as Creative Loafing was preparing to move from temporary quarters to permanent office space in Ybor Square (right), we heard the rumors: The historic former cigar factory, built in 1886 by Vicente Martinez Ybor, was up for sale and the prospective buyer was The Church of Scientology.
We looked into it. No one could confirm. Calls werent returned. Then I checked with the City of Tampas zoning office, and there it was in black and white: In a letter from Zoning Administrator Catherine Coyle dated April 27, Church of Scientology of Tampa had received approval for an office with a place of assembly at 1911 N. 13th St. the 87,337-square-foot complex between 8th & 9th Avenues and 13th and 14th Streets also known as Ybor Square.
According to a letter (see Info Box, right) and floorplans submitted to the zoning office by COS Tampa Corporate Secretary Ana Tirabassi, the Church feels it has outgrown its West Tampa facility on N. Habana Avenue (also a restored cigar factory) and wishes to move operations from that site into two of the three buildings in Ybor Square, the Factory and the Stemmery, leaving CL and Spaghetti Warehouse as tenants in the Warehouse Building for the foreseeable future.
CL signed a 5-and-a-half year lease for its Ybor Square space on October 2009 with Zybor, Inc. (an affiliate of ZOM, the Orlando-based real estate developers) and occupied a warren of offices in the Factory before moving into an 8,595-square-foot loft space above Spaghetti Warehouse on April 24. CL Chief Financial Officer Angela La Fon did not know that the complex would soon be up for sale when she signed the lease.
The Church of Scientology has famously been the subject of in-depth investigations by the St. Petersburg Times, the latest featuring allegations of tyrannical mismanagement and defections from the organization's upper echelons. In an attempt to counter the Times coverage, the Church created a newspaper-like supplement attacking the Times and paid for it to be inserted into Creative Loafing on January 6, 2010. The CL editorial department had nothing to do with the supplements content, nor did we, or could we, vouch for its accuracy; it was an ad. Nevertheless, some readers mistook it to be a CL-produced package, and we were at pains to explain the distinction.
And now the Church was going to be our landlord? With offices just steps away from our own, including that of CL CEO Marty Petty, the former publisher of the Times?