MorningStar to expand tower

FORT MILL -- MorningStar Ministries is closer to turning its 20-story tower, slated for demolition, into an expanded living center for active adults with assisted living and skilled nursing care.

The York County Council on Monday gave the ministry initial approval to add three wings that will shore up the county's tallest building to house about 250 residents 55 and older, said York County Councilman Paul Lindemann.

The first and second floors could have amenities ranging from a beauty shop to a dry cleaner and a convenience store, MorningStar Construction Manager Pat Selvey said. The top floor is scheduled to be a restaurant.

"Life leases" will start around $150,000 for the five different floor plans on the third to 19th floors, which will be accessible by four elevators, Selvey said.

The fate of the tower on 52 acres of the former Heritage USA property has been debated this year. After threats of tearing it down and fining MorningStar $465 a day, the county and the ministry finally have agreed on proposed changes.

The tower was nearly completed in the 1980s by evangelist Jim Bakker. It remains in the same condition it was in when Bakker left PTL in disgrace in 1988.

MorningStar was to come up with a development plan for how it would restore the decaying structure. The building was slated to be demolished in January. MorningStar later said the deadline to develop the plan was missed because of miscommunication and efforts to get Fort Mill to annex the property.

In March and May, the council extended deadlines for 90-day periods. During that time, the ministry worked with the county on plans for restoration.

"In being rezoned for planned development, they can do several different things they couldn't do before," Lindemann said. "Each project they do in the planned development will go under review and be brought before council."

After plans are approved, Selvey said, the ministry hopes to break ground in April. He did not say how much the project will cost.

A development agreement with a timeline and where the money will come from will be presented to the council at a yet-to-be determined time, said York County Planning Manager Stephen Allen. Adding three building supports and other modifications will bring the building up to current International Building Codes, he said.

The tower additions, on both ends and in the front, will create more square footage, Selvey said.

"It's not going to fall down, but we're going to bring it up to current codes, which is easy to do because the building was never finished," Selvey said. "This building is such good news for York County. The additions are going to make the building a lot more beautiful."

Two years ago, developer Earl Coulston agreed to take down the tower. It had been, in part, the center of Bakker's undoing when he oversold "lifetime" timeshares to pay for an ambitious building program at Heritage USA, the former Christian vacation destination.

At Monday's meeting, community response was positive, but less than a handful of Fort Mill residents spoke, meeting attendees say.

"No one spoke in opposition, which is rare," Selvey said. "Once we agreed, in writing, to do road repairs and maintenance, a lot of problems brought up when the project was initially announced went away."

Mike Sexton, president of the homeowner's association for the adjacent Regent Park, said decisions made on MorningStar property do not pertain to their community.

"It's off our property, so we can't take a position one way or another," Sexton said. "We aren't taking a position on it."

The ministry has started accepting applications for these residences, Selvey said.

The council referred the plans to its zoning committee and will vote again on the project Oct. 1.