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Ministry will have 6 months to find money for tower

FORT MILL -- MorningStar Ministries would have six months from the time York County Council approves their plans to prove they have the money to turn the uncompleted 20-story tower into a senior citizens' high-rise, according to a development agreement.

If the ministry can't show they have the money, the draft version of the agreement calls for demolition of the tower at their expense.

Some details of the agreement were discussed this week at a planning commission meeting and will be shared during a public hearing Monday. The cost of the renovations has yet to be released.

The discussions come amid a celebration the ministry is holding Friday to mark the opening of the Heritage International Ministries Retreat Center three years after purchasing the property.

The development agreement for the former Heritage USA property is to ensure that York County's tallest building is converted to a retirement home as MorningStar Ministries has proposed. If not, York County Planning Director Susan Britt said it will be razed.

MorningStar's founder and director, Rick Joyner, hopes to make the tower home to an active adult community, following the biblical belief to honor parents.

"When we found out the building was salvageable, we thought the best use was to help our seniors. I want to make their last years their best -- most fruitful and filled with purposes," Joyner said. "It'll be a unique community, but a good one."

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

This plan, which the county and ministry spent more than five months working on, focuses on funding, traffic impact and utilities, Britt said. This agreement will have two public hearings, and Britt said she expects some changes between the hearings.

"The staff is comfortable with the agreement as outlined," Britt said.

Regent Parkway and nearby roads aren't county-maintained, but if the county agrees to take in the roads, the ministry will pay its "fair share" of the maintenance during the first two years, under the agreement.

The unfinished tower, with large sections of bricks missing, moss growing up sides, is "just in cosmetic disarray," Joyner said.

"The building itself is in great shape," he said. "It will be expanded into a larger and much nicer facility."

While Joyner said adding on to three sides will create larger units, York County Planning Manager Steve Allen said the expansion will support the building.

If the project can gain York County Council's approval, Joyner is "hoping to hear hammers the first of the year." But MorningStar Construction Manager Pat Selvey said it probably won't be until a few months after that.

Threats of tearing the tower down earlier this year have subsided, but if these plans aren't approved, those talks might be back on the table, Britt said.

"If MorningStar doesn't meet the requirements of the development agreement, we can remove the tower," she said.

Research shows four elevators and sprinklers should alleviate fears of having seniors living on the third through 19th floors. A restaurant, salon, convenience store, nursing station and other amenities could be in the finished tower.

The 52-acre property already is used for a church, retreat center, school and some retail.

If the plans pass, two 16-unit bunkhouses will be used for rental apartments. No more than 500 residential units will be permitted on the property, per the agreement, and half of that is the tower's capacity.

Joyner said there has been so much response to the ministry's plans for the tower that he has started to think about building another one elsewhere.

"Test marketing response was remarkable; there's so much of a demand for a place like this," Joyner said. "This will be a boom industry during the next 20 years."

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