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York County rejects request for time to fix old Fort Mill tower

The York County Council unanimously rejected a Fort Mill ministry’s request to restart the clock on a plan to renovate a blighted high-rise.

MorningStar Ministries has had plans to renovate a 21-story tower on its property near U.S. 21 and the state line into a spiritually-focused retirement community since 2007, when the building, located in the Regent Park development, was scheduled for demolition.

Built in the 1980s as part of televangelist Jim Bakker’s Heritage U.S.A. spiritual vacation destination, the unfinished tower since has raised concerns among neighbors about its safety and appearance.

The county entered a development agreement with the ministry in the project’s early phases. It set forth deadlines for producing proof of financing and a commitment to seeing the renovation through and gave demolition as a remedy if deadlines were not met.

Those deadlines passed, and the ministry never presented documents to back up its claims it could financially move forward with the project, county officials have maintained.

“To this date, MorningStar has never represented to York County that they have ever obtained a true financing commitment from any financing entity at any time,” county manager Jim Baker told the County Council on Monday.

The county then asked a legal mediator to intervene – a required step in the development agreement before going to court. During mediation, the county asked the ministry to present an engineering study of the building and an analysis of how it could fix up the facade.

The county received neither, Baker said.

The council invited the ministry to make one last proposal – a chance to provide a plan for short-term and long-term renovations, and a plan for financing both.

On March 5, ministry leaders asked the council for more time to find financial support to complete the tower and to replace the existing development agreement with a new one.

In a press conference a few days before, Rick Joyner, the ministry’s executive director and spiritual leader, threatened to sue the county for financial damages related to the project if the county rejected its proposal.

The county drove financial backers away, Joyner said, by claiming publicly that the ministry defaulted on its side of the deal.

But Baker said the county has always been willing to work with the ministry, if only it would provide proof of “reasonable progress” in moving forward with the tower renovation.

If the ministry has documents to prove it could at one time or can now finance the tower project, Baker said, it should “produce them immediately.”

Councilman David Bowman called MorningStar’s proposal “unreasonable and unacceptable.”

In addition to lacking detail and failing to fulfill the county’s request for information, he said, the ministry’s threat of a lawsuit amid negotiations put “a chill on the process.”

“Everybody here would love for (the tower) to be successful,” council Chairman Britt Blackwell said after the vote.

But the county can’t afford another “five-year trail” of talking about the project with no action.

Joyner and Dave Yarnes, MorningStar’s vice president, were not at the meeting.

Court or negotiation next

The council now will ask the mediator to declare an impasse, and both parties will be free to pursue legal action if they so choose, Baker said after the meeting.

Councilman Chad Williams said he would prefer to see some agreement reached that each side was comfortable with.

The county’s option is to sue the ministry to uphold its end of the development agreement, which calls for demolition of the tower at the ministry’s expense, Baker said.

But that doesn’t mean there will be a lawsuit coming from the county, Baker said.

Finding some resolution has always been preferable to going to court, he said, but the County Council made it clear Monday they will require something more substantial from the ministry to negotiate again.

It’s “human nature,” Baker said, that “people very seldom make decisions until they’re forced to make a decision.”