Scientology leaders say aquarium shouldn't get public funds

- The Clearwater Marine Aquarium won a battle against the Church of Scientology in the chamber of the Clearwater City Council last week, and it seems the church will not let it go unnoticed. 

The church had its sights set on a plot of land owned by the aquarium at the corner of Osceola and Polk. The City of Clearwater was set to buy the land for $4.25 million, but the church offered $15 million: A deal the church thought the aquarium couldn't pass up. But the aquarium honored the deal it already made with the city, and the city went through with the purchase.

Now the church is trying to convince Pinellas County commissioners not to approve tourism money for the aquarium, saying it must not need the cash since it turned down the church's offer.

Tuesday, commissioners approved the first step in sending $26 million in tourism dollars to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

RELATED: Clearwater votes to buy aquarium land, effectively blocking Church of Scientology's bid

At the last minute, the Church of Scientology tried to convince commissioners to block the funds, saying the aquarium has no reason to ask for all that public money given they just turned down the church's much-larger offer.

The church distributed documents alleging the aquarium's economic impact is overstated, and that the CEO makes too high of a salary for a non-profit.

"We reject and we refute everything they have in there, on every issue we can take all the time we need to. It's false, it's inflammatory and it's inappropriate," said Clearwater Aquarium CEO David Yates. "It is what it is. We are not going to be distracted, we are not going to read their minds. We just move on."

Commissioners approved the money anyway.

"I did get a whole box of documentation yesterday," said Commissioner Kenneth Welch. "That's not good timing. We need that information way before we make a decision."

The aquarium plans to use the bed tax money to continue to build the aquarium's facility and programs.

The city said it plans to use the land at Osceola and Pierce to build retail stores. The aquarium said it honored the deal with the city because it was made before the church of Scientology put in their offer.

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