For weeks the citizens and officials of Clearwater, Florida, were trying without success to clear up a mystery: Who was behind the $2.3 million purchase in December of the ten-story Fort Harrison Hotel downtown?
The purchaser was announced as Southern Land Development and Leasing Corporation, which in turn rented the facility to a new organization known as the United Churches of Florida (UCF). The UCF proceeded to move more than 200 of its people into the hotel. Guards were posted to keep outsiders out. A nearby bank building was also purchased by Southern Land and turned into an office complex, presumably for UCF use.
Attempts by reporters to obtain information on who was behind Southern Land and UCF were thwarted. Sorrell Allen, identified as UCF’s “membership director,” said the purchase was made by property investors who wished to remain anonymous. UCF, he said, was simply a non-profit lay organization trying to promote church unity. (As a start, UCF offered to sponsor an hour-long broadcast on Sunday mornings by pastors of area churches.)
Clearwater mayor Gabriel Cazares was rebuffed in his demand for full disclosure, and he tangled with Allen during a riproaring broadcast on a local radio station. Meanwhile, rumors were spreading that the Mafia or the Arabs were taking over.
Some of the mystery was suddenly cleared up at the end of last month when a spokesman arrived from Los Angeles and announced that the controversial Church of Scientology had put up 95 per cent of the purchase price and was sponsoring UCF. The spokesman, Scientology minister Arthur J. Maren, said the secrecy was to spare the UCF from being overshadowed by the mention of any “dominant religion.” (Even the Jack Tar hotel chain, which sold the Fort Harrison, ...1
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