The owners of a controversial Fort Mill area high-rise asked the York County Council Monday night for its "trust" and five more years to transform the blighted tower into a spiritual retirement community.
With county approval,MorningStar Ministries could begin repairing the 21-story building's crumbling facade in 30 days - reinstalling railings and balconies, painting faux bricks where real ones have fallen off, and removing unsightly debris, said David Yarnes, the ministry's vice president.
The ministry also asked for nine to 15 months to submit site plans and engineering documents. MorningStar wants until the end of 2014 to show proof of financing for renovating the tower completely. Construction would run from August 2015 to February 2017.
The proposal follows more than a year that the county and ministry have been tied up in closed-door legal negotiations over whether the ministry failed to uphold its obligations on the tower project.
Built by former televangelist and PTL founder Jim Bakker as part of the Christian vacation destination Heritage USA, located off U.S. 21 near the state line, the project unraveled in the late 1980s after Bakker left amid a scandal.
Since 2004, MorningStar, which runs a church, camps, schools and a conference center, has been restoring the buildings on the site, but the tower has sat untouched. When the county wanted to demolish it in 2007, MorningStar offered a plan to renovate it. The county approved the plan, but set deadlines for the ministry to show finances and the ability to finish the tower - or face demolishing it. Those deadlines have passed, county leaders maintain.
On Monday night, MorningStar leaders blamed the county for sabotaging its plans and driving away financial backers when it announced the ministry had defaulted on the agreement.
Rick Joyner, MorningStar chief executive officer and spiritual leader, said the ministry isn't responsible for a "single day of delay" on the project. Last week he threatened to sue if county leaders reject the ministry's plan.
Joyner said Monday they need to restore their trust in one another: "We've got what it takes to get this job done, but we can't do it if we're at war," he said.
County Manager Jim Baker said after the meeting that ministry leaders left out many facts of their dispute, including the county's repeated requests for proof of financing and willingness to give the ministry more time.
Ministry leaders said they have $700,000 in a bank account set aside for the immediate renovations but asked council members not to make financial statements public.
After the meeting, Joyner said that "short of the world collapsing," the ministry will see the project through.
On whether anything could deter finding financing for the tower, Joyner said, "We've got fallbacks. We've got friends who could write a check" out of their personal accounts if necessary, adding that they're trying to build a ministry, not a private business.
After the meeting, Councilman David Bowman of Fort Mill said he needs to review the proposal again. The county has until March 19 to decide whether to accept it.
Bowman was hoping to see more details, including photos and renderings, and was disappointed that ministry leaders spent most of their time "telling us how bad we are" then asking for trust, he said. He called the group's accusations against the county "completely unfounded."
Some neighbors of the tower asked the council to consider how much time the county has given the ministry and questioned whether the ministry could be trusted.
"In this case where there's nothing concrete, you've got to judge the future by the past," Dan Ritchie said after the meeting.
About three dozen people came out in support of the ministry. Richard Osgood had a deposit on a tower residence and worried he'd never see it finished when he and his wife learned about the renovated condos in the nearby hotel and moved in.
Seeing the tower complete "means a lot to our outreach around the world," he said.
It will provide a "training area where people can do what they would like to do for the Lord," he said.
Jamie Self 803-329-4062