It was a chilly January night in 1987, and then-PTL president Jim Bakker had invited top leaders from York County to Heritage USA, his Christian theme park in Fort Mill. He wanted to share his dreams for expanding the 2,300-acre complex, which had attracted nearly six million visitors the year before with, among other things, its 52-foot water slide, Bible-based shops along a pretend Main Street and a TV studio spotlighting the talk show that starred Bakker and then-wife Tammy.
Bakker’s vision, he told the leaders, included a roller coaster ride through “heaven and hell,” a 30,000-seat replica of London’s Crystal Palace, even a five-story, Greek-style mausoleum.
Construction had already begun by then on two other mega-projects: A sand castle with a 10-story turret that would house the world’s largest Wendy’s restaurant, and a high-rise hotel to be called Heritage Grand Towers. When finished, reported the Heritage Herald, a weekly newspaper for tourists and those living on the PTL property, the tower’s “elegantly furnished” 500 rooms would include 100 honeymoon suites “for couples who come to Heritage USA to renew their marriages.”
Two months later, Bakker suddenly resigned amid financial and sexual scandal. His plans were scrapped, the ongoing construction halted. Today, three decades after Bakker’s dreams gave way to a nightmarish spell of bankruptcy, lawsuits and prison, many of the magnets that once drew people to Heritage USA are long gone.
Still there: The never-finished, never-occupied 21-story tower. These days, with its rusted railings, broken windows and missing bricks, the building is considered an eyesore and a nuisance by many neighbors and York County officials.
But where others see ruins of Bakker’s PTL empire, Raleigh-born Rick Joyner envisions the property as the perfect home for a multi-faceted ministry with its own dreams of becoming an all-purpose Christian center for young and old.
The 68-year-old Joyner, who has close ties to Bakker, is the founder and executive director of MorningStar Ministries, an organization that has churches, missions and schools around the world. In 2004, it bought 52 acres of the old PTL property for $1.6 million, then later bought 18 more acres.
It uses the hotel PTL did finish, the Heritage Grand, as headquarters for several of its endeavors, including MorningStar Fellowship Church, MorningStar University, a K-12 school, a publishing house, and a conference center. It kept the name “Main Street” for the building’s two block-long collection of offices and eateries. About 100 people live in the building, Joyner said, some of whom have come from other countries.
MorningStar did demolish the sand castle/would-be restaurant in 2013. But Joyner said he has grand plans for the tower that Bakker never finished. If, that is, he can win or settle his longtime court fight with York County that’s before the S.C. Court of Appeals. Joyner wants to turn the high-rise into a retirement center – or, as he prefers to call it, a “refirement” center for seniors.
And while Joyner told the Observer he has no interest in resurrecting Bakker’s Christian version of Disneyland, he’d like to see Bakker return periodically to his old spiritual stomping grounds and preach a prophetic message to the flock at MorningStar.
Said Joyner: “He always has a powerful word for us.”
SOURCE: TIM FUNK
The Charlotte Observer