The Scientologists next door

Curiosity about the Church of Scientology's new Ybor City digs has been running rampant around here since the church took over Ybor Square. And by "around here," I mean specifically in the offices of Creative Loafing. Along with our downstairs neighbors, the Spaghetti Warehouse restaurant, we were the only two tenants remaining after COS purchased all 88,000 square feet of the former V.M. Ybor Cigar Factory for $7 million in May of 2010. Now we share Ybor Square's brick courtyard with parishioners and church staffers, many of the latter (there are 222 in all) wearing black suits and white shirts. It's like we're suddenly living in a community of upscale cater-waiters.

The Tampa church opened with a flourish (and the cutting of a very big ribbon) on March 13. An estimated 2,110 Scientologists and friends assembled to hear COS leader David Miscavige christen the complex, a so-called Ideal Org because of its mix of church and public spaces (it also provides the church much more room than in its previous West Tampa outpost). Four protesters showed up on the outskirts of the event from Anonymous, the vocal band that has long plagued Scientologists on the streets of Clearwater. CL's Mitch Perry blogged about the protesters (media was not given access to the ceremony), and his blog raised hackles among COS officials, who thought he'd neglected to give their side of the story — had, in their opinion, missed the story (the $6 million renovation of an historic building, the big crowd, the economic impact on Ybor, etc.) completely.

To be fair, Mitch too regrets that he was not able to contact anyone the next day to get Scientology's thoughts on the protesters, and he's since met, as have I, with the offended parties. Next week, online and in print, he'll be adding more perspective from his interviews with both COS and Anonymous. We're committed to keeping an open mind about our blockmates; they tell us they'll do the same.

To that end, on Wed., March 16, CL employees (not including Mitch) took a tour of the facilities we'd been staring at from across the courtyard for so long. CL Creative Director Todd Bates took the photos below.

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