Televangelist Jim Bakker’s studio will be the centerpiece.
Blue Eye — What was once a failed Renaissance theme park may soon become a Christian-themed residential community.
And the centerpiece will be a new broadcast studio for televangelist Jim Bakker.
Branson developer Jerry Crawford and his wife, Dee, have purchased the 590 acres just north of Blue Eye that in 1994 was the site of a short-lived park called Camelot.
Within two years, they plan to build a development known as Morningside at Blue Eye. It is a ministry, Dee Crawford said, that will offer affordable housing and an environment conducive to activities from Bible study to counseling.
“We’ve never gone into a project without edifying the Lord,” Dee Crawford said. “Our heart’s desire is to make something that’s accessible for the people who need it.”
Jerry Crawford, a Branson developer with projects in several states, said he purchased the property adjacent to Blue Eye six months ago from an owner in Texas. The Crawfords also own the Studio City Cafe, a Branson building they rent to Bakker. He came to the city in 2002 at the Crawfords’ invitation.
The Crawfords’ devotion to Bakker goes back 20 years when the couple was on the brink of divorce. They attended a marriage workshop with Bakker at his PTL Ministries at Heritage Village in South Carolina. They’ll celebrate their 28th anniversary in March.
Despite the financial scandal that rocked Bakker’s ministry in 1989 and led to prison time for the minister, their commitment to him remains firm.
“This project is a dream that came to us many years ago,” Jerry Crawford said. “We want to offer people the same opportunities we had.”
Revenue for Blue Eye?
Crawford has asked that the property be annexed into Blue Eye — population 130 –because he grew up in a small town in Tennessee.
“I think I can create revenue for the city,” he told the five-member board of trustees Thursday.
City officials received no objections to the annexation during a recent public comment period, said Mayor Jerry Kerns. The board could approve an annexation ordinance at its next meeting on Feb. 10.
The city’s only revenue comes from state gasoline tax and franchise agreements with Carroll Electric Co-op and Classic Cable. That amounted to $8,994 last year.
If the property is developed, city officials might vote on a sales tax, Kerns said. Added funds could provide police protection and a sewage treatment system, but the development shouldn’t change life in Blue Eye, Kerns said. “I think that this is still going to be a small town, but we’ll have a little money to improve things.”
“I don’t see it changing our lifestyle,” said trustee J.D. Settles.
Ruth Murray was born in Blue Eye and is a member of Stone County’s planning commission.
“I certainly believe that if they can get something going there, that would be a plus for the community,” Murray said.
The first phase of Morningside will be a four-story complex with 30 condominiums surrounding “Main Street,” a climate-controlled atrium with shops, a food court and a TV studio for Bakker. From studio to two bedrooms, the condos will begin at about $65,000. Residents will have a view into the atrium and the panorama outside, Jerry Crawford said.
The Crawfords will bankroll the first phase, he said. He estimates about $5 million for the first building plus $1.5 million in infrastructure. He’ll buy water from the MO-Ark Water Co. in Lampe that supplies Blue Eye residents. The wastewater treatment plant is being designed by Rozell Engineering and Survey, and the building by Branson architect Tom Fish.
Ultimately, the Crawfords plan to build a variety of homes including a gated area for more upscale residences. Nature trails and water features are planned, and Crawford hopes to build a residential care facility and an RV park on the property.
Crawford expects buyers from families to retirees — even retired missionaries — will be attracted to the Christian concept, though faith isn’t a requirement to buy in the development.
Bakker opened a recent show at the Studio City Cafe by mentioning that this month marks his 65th birthday and the start of his third season in Branson. He said he believes viewers from around the country will still find him in Blue Eye, which is about 30 miles south of Branson.
“The New Jim Bakker Show” is carried on more than 30 TV networks including UPN and PAX and also by satellite around the world.
“I’ll do seminars, workshops, Bible study, restoration,” Bakker said. “I think it will work out better in the countryside. It’ll be a destination where people live, retire. I studied the Bible the whole time I was in prison, so my heart is really in teaching now.”
In 1989, 15 years after founding his popular ministry, Bakker was ousted by the organization’s board. PTL later entered bankruptcy.
Bakker and other ministry officials were subsequently convicted of mail fraud over the sale of 150,000 vacation time shares sold at Heritage USA theme park. Bakker was released from prison in 1995 after serving five years.
Bakker said he and his second wife, Lori, who co-hosts the show, are not getting rich in Branson. They are raising five children whom they adopted, and “barely make ends meet,” Bakker said.
Donations received by the TV show go to purchase the air time, said cafe manager Brian Hord.
Morningside will not be a time-share community, and Bakker has no financial stake in the project, Jerry Crawford said.
Ashes of Camelot
At the property, the scars of bulldozing by the former owners are largely overgrown. Crawford has razed the few small decaying buildings.
Plans for the park included jousting matches, strolling musicians and eventually an outdoor amphitheater. But the park operated for only three weeks before it was abandoned, leaving about 70 employees unpaid. The developers disappeared, and lenders foreclosed on the property.
Crawford will use the roads that wend through the property, widening them to three lanes. He described how he will create waterfalls down a cliff. And he pointed to the hilltop where he plans to build a water tower shaped like a cross.
One day, he said, he expects he and Dee will move to Morningside.
“We’re not taking this on for profit,” Crawford said.