Music, carnival games and an appearance by John Travolta are all on tap as the Church of Scientology holds grand opening ceremonies Sunday and Monday for its new outreach centers in Plant City and downtown St. Petersburg.
Although the openings are long delayed – church officials initially said the centers would be ready last summer – their completion marks a significant commitment by the Church of Scientology to expand its reach in the Tampa Bay region.
Last April the Church of Scientology got a cool reception from many in the religiously conservative Plant City area when it announced the purchase of the former Frenchman’s Market in the middle of the quaint downtown.
The 11,000-square-foot historic building at 102 N. Collins St., purchased for $620,000, will include 44 displays depicting the principles of Dianetics, Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard. It will be staffed by 14 full-time church employees who will supervise introductory Scientology courses offered there.
In May 2006, the church paid $1.6-million for a historic building along Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg. Once the home of the Women’s Town Improvement Association, and more recently the Gold Coffee Shop, the building will operate much as the Life Improvement Center in Ybor City, where church staffers regularly stand outside and try to persuade passers-by to come inside to take personality or stress tests or to view a video or lecture about Scientology. The building will have two film rooms and 12 displays with information about Scientology.
The Plant City opening ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday. There will be a family carnival with arts and crafts, a Bouncy House, slides and games, a bake sale and tours of the new facility.
The ribbon cutting will occur at 1 p.m. with an address by Rev. Lynn Irons, executive director of the Church of Scientology, Tampa. In addition, actor Erika Christensen of the TV drama Six Degrees and the film Traffic, a Scientologist, also will speak. The Glorious Gospel choir will perform at the start of the ribbon cutting and there will be a classic rock ‘n’ roll band afterwards.
The grand opening of the St. Petersburg center will be held on Monday beginning at 5:30 p.m. It will include a performance by The Mystic Sheiks of Morocco, a Busch Gardens marching band. Irons and John Long, president of the Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg, will make some remarks. And then the podium will be turned over to one of Scientology’s most famous members, John Travolta.
Church staff will provide tours of the newly renovated 7,000-square-foot building, which includes 12 displays on Dianetics and Scientology. The center is at 336 First Ave. N.
Pat Harney, a spokeswoman for the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, said the centers are models for future expansion to six other cities around the state.St.
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