Fort Mill Times

MorningStar tower foe airs grievance on new billboard on I-77

One of the messages on the billboard paid for by Eric Kinsinger to protest the MorningStar tower near his Regal Manor home.
One of the messages on the billboard paid for by Eric Kinsinger to protest the MorningStar tower near his Regal Manor home. JEFF SOCHKO

Eric Kinsinger is a man on a mission.

Since 2010, the Fort Mill resident has been spearheading a movement to have the unfinished and much-maligned 21-story MorningStar tower that sits near Regent Park torn down. MorningStar Ministries has owned the land since 2004, promising renovations to the tower, but aside from some interior renovations made on the ground floor in 2007, it has sat idle since.

A court battle between MorningStar and York County has the tower’s future in limbo, but Kinsinger is taking matters into his own hands. This week, he unveiled his message above Carowinds Boulevard.

Kinsinger, who lives in the Regal Manor subdivision a short distance from the tower, paid nearly $1,000 to rent an electronic billboard near Exit 90 on Interstate 77 to display two rotating messages that went live Monday – “It’s been too long” and “Tear the tower down.” The billboard messages come at a time when more traffic than usual is flowing past the sign toward the newly opened Cabela’s store nearby.

The tower was initially built by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker for their PTL and Heritage USA sites, but it was never finished. The Bakkers’ iconic TV ministry and theme park crumbled in the mid-1980s under the weight of sex and financial scandals.

“The tower has been an eyesore since the 1980s and nothing has happened with it,” Kinsinger said. “MorningStar continues to not do anything with it, and the case seems to be going nowhere. This is a little bit broader scale. I’ll get the billboard going and see what happens.”

Efforts to reach MorningStar Ministries officials were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Last year, MorningStar sued York County claiming the county didn’t properly approve the church’s redevelopment plans, resulting in what the church claimed was $12 million in losses from potential profits. The case is currently before the state Court of Appeals. Church leader Rick Joyner unveiled plans several years ago to turn the tower into low-cost senior housing. Later, the plan was amended to mostly high-end condos and apartments for seniors, Joyner called a “refirement community.” But he said some units would be set aside for low-income seniors.

Nothing other than litigation has happened since, including MorningStar’s appeal of a recent court ruling.

Kinsinger said he isn’t as concerned with the current appeals, but the timing of his billboard is a strategic move. The Cabela’s opening is an added bonus, but this week also marks the three-year anniversary of the county’s ruling that MorningStar would not have more time to redevelop the tower and the 20th anniversary of Jim Bakker’s arrest on accounting fraud charges. He was eventually convicted and served jail time.

“MorningStar said they wanted to fix it up and they said they don’t have the money to fix it,” Kinsinger said, “even though they’ve gone out of their way to find their financials. They said they were going to do something for the community with the property beneath the castle once it was taken down.”

“The castle” is a reference to an old Heritage USA attraction. At the time the castle was torn town, Joyner said MorningStar would redevelop the site for public use, mentioning a swimming pool as one possibility.

“That was over a year and a half ago, and they haven’t done anything with it,” Kinsinger said. “They seem like they don’t care, so hopefully this brings awareness.”

Kinsinger has been an outspoken opponent of the tower for the past five years. He operates a Facebook page called “Tear Down the MorningStar Tower,” has made numerous presentations to the County Council, and has written many letters and orders for action from MorningStar.

“I want to raise more awareness to get the word out, and I think the billboards can do that,” he said. “Some people don’t know it’s still standing because it’s so far back in there. I want to bring people to the site and see what MorningStar does.”

Kinsinger said he ultimately doesn’t care what happens with the land, as long as the tower is taken down.

“The county should take on the road since it’s the main road to Sugar Creek Elementary School,” he said. “But I don’t care what goes there. Anything. Nothing. Just as long as they take down that tower. It’s a monstrosity and such an eyesore.”