FORT MILL, S.C. – A minister and a developer on Monday expect to buy land that was once Heritage USA and by next year turn part of it into a Christian school and conference center that could host evangelist Jim Bakker himself from time to time.
Coulston Enterprises Inc. expects to buy 942 acres of old PTL land in Fort Mill from a Malaysian company in stages in the coming months. The first closing is set for Monday, according to the parties involved.
Developer Earl Coulston is planning about 1,700 homes and a shopping district that could compare to Huntersville’s Birkdale Village for the vast tract of land that spans three counties. But Coulston, also a missionary, said he wants up to four ministers to be based there.
One of them, Rick Joyner of MorningStar Ministries in Charlotte — who has ties to Bakker — expects to have a K-12 school, a two-year college and monthly conferences on the site by next year.
Others, including theologians, apologists and cult watchers, rightly consider Joyner to by one the most unsound and dangerous teachers around. His error-filled, unorthodox teachings include (but are not limited to) Kingdom Now (or Dominion) theology, extra-biblical revelation, and the denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Reached before his new TV show in Branson, Mo., Thursday, the 64-year-old Bakker called Joyner a prophet and said the plan to build a school and conference center was a “resurrection” of Heritage USA.
“Rick Joyner is a restorer,” Bakker said. “He mainly restores people, but right now he’s going to restore the old grounds … I believe Heritage USA belongs to the church world.”
The PTL ministry, led by Bakker and his then wife, Tammy Faye, opened Heritage USA as a religious retreat in 1978. Bakker resigned in 1987 amid financial and sex scandals, and the ministry never recovered. Heritage USA once drew 6 million visitors a year. He served five years in a federal prison for bilking his followers of $158 million and was released in 1994.
After prison, Bakker preached at Joyner’s MorningStar Fellowship Church in Charlotte and lived in a log cabin supplied by Joyner. MorningStar offers one of Bakker’s books for sale.
Joyner said he expects Bakker to be invited to speak occasionally but not to be a permanent minister on the grounds.
Much of the resort property’s original development was paid for by small donations to Bakker from PTL ministry followers across the world. In return for one-time donations, typically $1,000, PTL had promised its “lifetime partners” three free nights a year at Heritage USA for the rest of their lives.
The ministry unraveled in the late 1980s after ministry money was paid to silence Jessica Hahn after a sexual encounter between her and Bakker.
On Monday, after Coulston closes on the first parcel with the Malaysians, he intends to sell 52 acres that was once hotels and parking to Joyner, who is his minister. Joyner’s charismatic MorningStar Fellowship Church has headquarters in Charlotte and North Wilkesboro.
MorningStar held a Christian conference this week at King’s Arena on the former PTL land. Nearly 2,000 people attended worship sessions.
Joyner said Thursday the church school planned to train “a radically devoted generation of missionaries who will likely risk their lives for the gospel.”
The center MorningStar plans will not be public, he said. The ministry will try to hire a movie production company to demolish an incomplete condominium tower that’s crumbling, Joyner said.
MorningStar has some other famous connections. Former Panthers player Reggie White and bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs sit on the church’s board.
None of the parties in the land sale will reveal a purchase price. Owner Malaysian United Industries requires interested buyers to sign an agreement not to discuss potential purchases.
Coulston, of Fort Mill, said this week that he has bank loans to finance the purchase and hopes to line up investors to develop the land but declined to be more specific.
Coulston submitted preliminary plans this month with York County. The plans that detail infrastructure such as water, sewer and roads are scheduled to come before the planning commission in October and at a public hearing before the County Council in November, said Mike Scott, York County zoning administrator.
Under the agreement, the Malaysian subsidiary would continue to own the Regent Park golf course and the pyramid-shaped office building that serves as offices for Laura Ashley, maker of apparel and home furnishings. It would also keep a 30-acre tract on U.S. 21, Coulston has said.
A handful of potential deals on the land have failed since the Bakkers left.
Coulston has a strong track record of doing deals with the Malaysians. He has spearheaded most of the deals on the more than 1,000 acres of the old resort property that have been sold for housing developments and small retail centers.
During recent years in Regent Park, he bought and developed the upscale Enclave subdivision, with golf-course homes that range from $400,000 to $600,000. Coulston has also bought some land and then sold it to other developers for houses and commercial lots.
“He’s been out there since the Malaysians took it over … as far as knowledge and experience and history of what has been there, he knows it better than anybody,” said Bob Volles, a local development and building consultant.
Coulston, 62, gained knowledge of the property as the general manager for the Malaysian subsidiary between 1991 and 1997.
While about 50 percent of the entire property is expected to be commercial, Coulston said he wants to build 1,350 single-family houses and up to 400 condominiums. He said he expects to have all the single-family homes under contract with national builders in the next 30 days.
The houses will range in price from $160,000 to $1.5 million, he said. Some of the estate houses will be on golf course lots.
Coulston said he intends to keep the commercial interests separate from the Christian efforts. He has declined to compare his intended use of the land with what the Bakkers had.
Still, Coulston said he is excited about the potential Christian purpose of the land.
“The whole project is a lot bigger than I am, and I just thank God for letting me be in the middle of it right now,” Coulston said. “That’s my blessing.” — RELIGION EDITOR KEN GARFIELD AND STAFF RESEARCHER SARA KLEMMER CONTRIBUTED.
Plans for Property
Developer Earl Coulston said he is planning a vast mixed-use development for the 942 acres of former Heritage USA land he has agreed to buy. The plan includes the following:
• About 52 acres, including the former hotels and front parking area are expected to be sold to Rick Joyner and his MorningStar Ministries for a school and conference center.
• Around the lake, Coulston plans to develop a large public shopping area that would rival Huntersville’s Birkdale Village.
• A connector road will be built to extend Regent Parkway to Dorman Road in Mecklenburg County — making it less than a 2-mile drive between the property’s hotel and Carolina Place Mall.
• Old equestrian barns will be revamped and a walking trail built to connect with the Mecklenburg County greenway. Coulston said he wants to donate some land to the greenway.
— SOURCE: PRELIMINARY SKETCH PLAN AND EARL COULSTON
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