MorningStar Ministries tower plan has backing of York County Councilman from Fort Mill

Jonathan AllenJanuary 27, 2009 

Rick Joyner

The tower will live again.

Last week MorningStar Ministries submitted its plan to renovate and refurbish the 21-story former Heritage USA tower in the Regent Park area to York County planning officials. It features 204 "upscale housing residences" in the tower and 38,000 square feet of common space including a bistro, large pool fitness area, spa and many other amenities, according to a statement released by the ministry.

"The process has been a 'process,'" said Rick Joyner, MorningStar's founder and leader. "I feel we've made great progress."

County Council District 1 Representative Paul Lindemann (R--Fort Mill) thinks so, too.

"Anything obviously is an improvement over what's there now," Lindemann said. "It's more than just the tower. It really incorporates a 24/7 place that people can use."

Lindemann has vowed to help MorningStar with the tower groundbreaking and community outreach once construction can begin. In conjunction with the county's effort to clean up and revitalize the area around the I-77 Carowinds Boulevard exit, the tower project can be a major draw for the area, he said.

"The average 55-year-old couple retiring to York County brings about $1 million with them," Lindemann said. "MorningStar will see a lot of that crowd."

"We think it's one of the best places in the world," Joyner said. "We've got reservations for over 70 rooms so far."

Joyner said the redevelopment is projected to cost about $50 million.

The ministry plans to fund the entire project through sales of the housing units. It also has as many as five banks competing to lend the ministry money in the form of a construction loan, Joyner said.

"We will do a construction loan, but we may not have to touch the money," he said.

The renovated rooms will sell for $100,000 to $125,000 for smaller units and high-end rooms will cost as much as $500,000, Joyner said.

MorningStar has a 30-month construction timeline once it gets approval from county staff to begin, but Joyner hopes to finish sooner.

The tower has been a source of controversy since Jim Bakker's Praise The Lord ministry folded following his conviction in the 1980s.

The tower was never finished and over the years dozens of bricks have peeled away from the building exterior. The top floors have been open to the elements for years.

"When we first bought the property we were told the building had been condemned and had been poorly constructed, so without thinking we just were going to go ahead and demolish it," Joyner said. "We had a lot of people protest to keep it so I said I'd look at the possibility."

MorningStar brought in several structural engineers to study the building and determined it was salvageable. Then it had to convince an at first skeptical county council to give it a chance to save the building.

As it sits now, the building has an appraised value of between $11 million and $15 million, Joyner said.

"One thing we've got to do, especially with the huge baby-boom generation retiring is we've got to take care of our fathers and mothers," he said.

The ministry's plan to convert it into a "refirement" center, to reengage retired residents with their community and the ministry, helped sway the council.

However, not everyone is happy with how the plan turned out. Fort Mill resident Myrna Hamilton, a member of the Silver Hair Legislature and advocate for senior citizen issues, said she is disappointed that the plan does not include any affordable housing options for low-income seniors.

Hamilton met with MorningStar officials in 2007 to discuss senior citizen needs in the area when the group was seeking out community support to save the tower.

Construction Manager Pat Selvey even characterized the need to provide for low income seniors as a "mandate from the Lord," in a January 2007 Fort Mill Times story about the plan being developed at the time.

"There won't be any lower income housing in this; This community is not the place for low-end housing," Joyner said. "But if it does well, we're looking at some other properties we own in North Carolina and South Carolina for other projects."

Joyner said he hopes to begin construction soon.

Lindemann said the county council will not have any further votes on the project, so all MorningStar is waiting on is approval from county staff.

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