The man behind Cult City Tours, the walking tours around Church of Scientology landmarks in downtown Clearwater, says he's just trying to demystify the church's presence by laughing at it, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Why it matters: Tension has been growing between Cult City's Ted Reinhard and some city leaders and downtown business owners who want to disassociate Clearwater from Scientology.
- Reinhard left bad online reviews for several businesses that refused to host a reception for a tour led by several popular Scientology defectors.
- Business owners told the Times that the church had paid them a visit them prior refusing to host the reception.
The backdrop: Reinhard, whose tour uniform pokes fun at Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's exaggerated military record, joins the front lines of a culture war that has been playing out for years in Clearwater.
- Scientology first came to the city in 1975, but its pace of expansion has accelerated since 2017.
- The church, its members and companies they control own 185 properties that cover 101 acres in the center of downtown, the Times' Tracy McManus has reported.
- Non-church-affiliated proprietors downtown have long held the sentiment that Scientology's outsized presence discourages commerce.
The state of play: The idea for Cult City Tours came from a city councilman who suggested Clearwater should look for Scientology tourism opportunities instead of pretending it isn’t there.
- Reinhard told Axios that the reaction to the Times' story has been mostly positive.
- "Anything that brings attention to the situation downtown is a good thing and we’ve got a dozen bookings since 9am," he said.
This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.
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