Rehab ahead for PTL tower?

$50 million project would target unfinished building

MorningStar Ministries says it will spend $50 million to renovate the old PTL tower in Fort Mill, S.C., to ready it for apartments and shops.

Rick Joyner, founder of MorningStar, made the announcement Saturday in a meeting with area residents, many of whom had lobbied for the demolition of the tower in recent months.

“We really had planned to do this all along,” Joyner said.

The 21-story unfinished tower was to be the centerpiece of the old Heritage USA Christian theme park, part of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord empire, the multimillion-dollar evangelical group the Bakkers ran in the 1980s.

Instead, it became the centerpiece of Jim Bakker‘s federal fraud trial in 1989.

Prosecutors said Bakker knowingly oversold time shares in the tower, where he had promised people they could stay for a few days each year for the rest of their lives. Bakker was convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy and sent to prison.

The tower’s construction came to a halt during the trial and has stood untouched ever since.

Now, the railings are rusted, the bottom floors are boarded up and bricks on the side are falling off in patches.

MorningStar Ministries, a nondenominational Christian group, has been restoring the nearby Heritage Grand Hotel and Main Street Shoppes.

It bought the 52-acre property in 2005, and Joyner says he sees value in renovating the tower despite its condition.

“It’s roughly a $50 million investment, but we could still make $100 million,” Joyner said, but he added, “We’re a ministry, not a business.”

During his presentation in the old lobby of the hotel, standing on a stage before the renovated shops, Joyner showed an artist’s rendering of what the tower might look like, and assured the crowd the building is structurally sound.

Joyner said MorningStar would add 80,000 square feet to the building, which would house 500 to 700 people. He said the project is in the planning stages and would take a couple of years to complete.

“This place still has a stigma,” Joyner said. “We want to make that change. We want to make it into a positive.”

That seemed to be what the residents wanted to hear. In the past two months, neighbors have stepped up their complaints about the tower, which dwarfs every building around it. Residents say it’s an eyesore, and one took a petition of 100 signatures to a York County Council meeting in January, pleading with council members to demolish the building.

Before anything can happen, MorningStar will need to amend an earlier rezoning application with York County, which had threatened to fine MorningStar if it didn’t take some action. But Joyner doesn’t expect any further problems with the county.

And the residents in attendance seemed pleased by Joyner’s presentation.

Gary Schatz, a seven-year resident and vice president of the Regent Park homeowners association, called it a “good concept.”

“He knows what he’s got to do to fix it,” Schatz said.

The old PTL stakeholders, who make up a sizeable percentage of the Regent Park residents, applauded Joyner.

“I’m happy it’s going to be restored to not as it was, but better,” said Violetta Piegari, 76, who moved from New Jersey in 1985 to live close to PTL.

Piegari said she lost money for five time shares in the tower.

“I had a lot of my money in there,” she said, but said she doesn’t have hard feelings because she gave the money in the name of the Lord.

And she’s glad that life is again stirring on the property.

“The property was set aside by God for people to come feel restored and loved,” she said.

Joyner doesn’t want people to think he’s trying to revive PTL.

“We want to have the good things that happened here before,” he said. “But we’re a very different ministry by nature.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Charlotte Observer, USA
Feb. 16, 2007
Taylor Bright

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This post was last updated: Friday, February 16, 2007 at 4:03 AM, Central European Time (CET)