Dispute over unfinished Fort Mill tower ongoing

jzou@heraldonline.comJanuary 26, 2014 

A lawsuit faulting York County in a botched agreement over an unfinished tower in Fort Mill is proceeding and in the early stages of discovery, according to court documents.

Morningstar Fellowship Church, a Mississippi-based non-profit, sued the county last January after a development agreement between the two groups went sour in 2010, leaving an unfinished tower in the middle of a 52-acre complex that once belonged to televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

While the church hasn’t specified damages in the suit, the tower at the center of the failed agreement is currently valued at $10 million by church officials, according to the county’s latest fiscal audit, which included information regarding current litigation.

The church bought the plot in 2006 for $1.6 million, which includes a 21-story tower, a hotel conference center and several other buildings in the Regent Park area of Fort Mill. The complex was originally constructed by the Bakkers, who ran Praise The Lord club as part of a sprawling religious resort and theme park called Heritage USA.

PTL abandoned the partially-constructed campus in the 1990s after the couple ran into a series of legal problems stemming from sex and fraud scandals. Since then, the area has been redeveloped into a residential area with a golf course.

In 2008, the church struck a five-year deal with the county to renovate the uncompleted tower – the tallest structure in the county – into an assisted living facility or nursing home for seniors. The church claimed in its complaint that it had gotten 100 prospective buyers for the forthcoming units who had expressed their financial commitment.

The county claimed the church breached the agreement by failing to provide necessary paperwork and plans in early 2010, setting off months of unsuccessful out-of-court mediation. The church sued in 2013 alleging the county had dropped the ball by not approving site plans it submitted.

The county countered by calling the tower a “nuisance” and asked that it be demolished.

County attorney Michael Kendree said that the county has submitted a request to the church for evidence relating to the case and anticipates that depositions, or out-of-court testimonies, will be scheduled in the “near future.”

CommunityOne Bank, which is not named in the suit, has been subpoenaed for evidence by the county as well, according to a court order.

The county has contracted the services of private attorney Dan Ballou of Hamilton, Martens, Ballou & Carroll in Rock Hill for an unspecified sum. Ballou specializes in commercial litigation and real estate cases, according to the firm’s website.

Since September, the county has set aside $300,000 to cover outside legal expenses for ongoing suits, including the Morningstar case, in its annual budget.

Richard Fennell, a North Carolina lawyer representing Morningstar, could not be reached for comment.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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