Heritage USA

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For the American conservative think tank, see Heritage Foundation.

Coordinates: 35°3′38.3″N 80°54′42.3″W / 35.060639°N 80.911750°W / 35.060639; -80.911750

Heritage USA
Type Religious Theme Park & Christian Resort; Cable Television Network Broadcast & Production Facility
Industry Amusement park & hotel operator; Cable television network
Founded 1978 (closed 1989), hotel & convention center reopened in 2004 as Heritage International Ministries. Television studios and production facility reopened in 2009 as The Broadcast Group
Headquarters Fort Mill, South Carolina
Key people Jim Bakker, Tammy Faye Bakker Messner
Employees 2,500
Parent Heritage Village Church & Missionary Fellowship, Inc.

Heritage USA was a Christian theme park, water park, and residential complex built in Fort Mill, South Carolina, US, by PTL Club (short for "Praise The Lord") founders televangelist Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner. Much of the park, the area of which once comprised 2,300 acres (9.3 km2; 3.6 sq mi), was built by noted church builder Roe Messner, who later married Tammy Faye Bakker after Tammy's divorce from Jim Bakker. Pictures of the park, including the water park Heritage Island, remain accessible online. Since its closure in 1989, projects have been constructed on the grounds of the former theme park[1] with varying success, and portions of the property have been sold to several companies.

History[edit]

Heritage USA opened in 1978, and by 1986 had become one of the top vacation-destinations in the US, behind only Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It attracted nearly 6 million visitors annually and employed around 2,500 people.

The facilities included the 501-room Heritage Grand Hotel, Main Street USA, an indoor shopping complex, the Heritage Village Church, a 400-unit campground, The Jerusalem Amphitheater, conference facilities, a skating rink, prayer and counseling services, full cable TV network production studios, Bible and evangelism school, visitor retreat housing, staff and volunteer housing, timeshares and the Heritage Island water park and recreational facilities.

Falwell's slide[edit]

Falwell on the water slide.

The September 21, 1987, issue of Time magazine noted that Jerry Falwell "plunged" down a 163 feet (50 m) "hellish" water slide called the "Typhoon" with his suit on, fulfilling "a promise made during a fund-raising drive that netted $20 million for the debt-ridden PTL".[2]

This drive eventually took the PTL Club and Heritage USA from Jim Bakker.[3] It is noted that "Bakker arranged for Falwell to take over PTL in March in an effort to avoid what he called a 'hostile takeover' of the television ministry by people threatening to expose a sexual encounter he admitted to having seven years earlier with church secretary Jessica Hahn."[4]

Photos circulated around the world of Falwell's fully clothed, typhoon water-slide at Heritage Island. One image appeared in "The Best of Photojournalism" in the 1987 Pictures of the Year book presented by the National Press Photographers Association. In September 1999, the Associated Press selected it as one of the top 100 national photos of the century.[5]

Downfall[edit]

In the midst of Heritage USA's high point, when it earned $126 million per year, the IRS revoked its tax exemption. Soon after Bakker's federal indictment and public condemnation over his sexual affair, attendance dropped at Heritage. Falwell argued that "PTL's Heritage USA complex in Fort Mill was competing unfairly against tax-paying tourist attractions, and that the tax-exempt ministry should be separated from the running of hotels and amusement parks." Under Falwell's leadership, Heritage USA sought chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with debts estimated at $72 million.[4] The 165,000 people who gave $1,000 to Jim Bakker's planned Heritage USA hotel tower in return for promised four-day vacation stays received $6.54 each.

Starting in 1987, however, Jim Bakker's legal and personal troubles made headlines, and in September 1989 Hurricane Hugo caused severe damage to many of the buildings. Heritage USA closed shortly after the storm.

Redevelopment efforts[edit]

In 1991, the Heritage USA property was purchased for $52 million by San Diego evangelist Morris Cerullo in partnership with a Malaysian investment group, MUI Group (Malayan United Industries Berhad). The property was renamed "New Heritage USA". The partnership between Cerullo and MUI ended after a disagreement between Cerullo and MUI over Cerullo's issuance of discount cards to New Heritage USA. MUI filed suit against Cerullo and ultimately bought out his interest in the venture, renaming the property Regent Park. Cerullo retained control of PTL's cable network, which at the time was known as "The Inspirational Network", ultimately moving it to Charlotte, North Carolina and renaming it "The New Inspirational Network". Today, it is known simply as "Inspiration Network" or INSP. MUI is also the parent company of Laura Ashley plc which moved its US headquarters and distribution center to the property. The corporate offices of Laura Ashley are located in the former PTL World Outreach Center, the pyramid-shaped building which formerly housed Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker's offices as well as those of the leaders of PTL. Since MUI purchased the building, it has been renamed "The Regent Building." Through its local subsidiary, Regent Carolina Corporation, MUI built a golf course and residential development on the majority of the former Heritage USA property. For a short period of time in the 1990s, MUI attempted to operate the 501-room hotel and resort under a management agreement with Radisson Hotels, calling the property the "Radisson Grand Resort," but the complex was not successful as a secular venture without its religious emphasis and ultimately closed and fell into disrepair.

In December 2004, the remainder of the Heritage USA property was sold to Coulston Enterprises, owned by local developer and former MUI executive Earl Coulston. Coulston Enterprises sold portions of the property formerly housing the PTL Ministry to MorningStar Ministries of Charlotte, North Carolina, headed by Rick Joyner, and Flames-of-Fire Ministries of Fort Mill, headed by Coulston's wife, Sabrina. MorningStar is in the process of ongoing renovations to the portions of the property purchased by the ministry, while the buildings that had housed Flames-of-Fire have since been sold to The Broadcast Group, a television and multi-media production company headed by Dr. Dale Hill, who formerly worked for Bakker and PTL. Coulston Enterprises has developed several new subdivisions featuring single family homes on the remainder of the property. The Coulston-developed residential portion of the property is called Regal Manor.

In January 2006, a 24-hour prayer ministry also began its endeavor at the former Heritage USA. The Zadok House of Prayer (ZHOP) formed with dozens of musicians and prayer leaders relocating from the International House of Prayer in Kansas City . In April 2009, ZHOP relocated from the grounds, and the building that housed their ministry, a revamped former PTL warehouse complex, has been sold to MorningStar Fellowship Church. It now houses MorningStar's K-12 private school CSCL.[clarification needed]

In late 2006, the IRS placed a tax lien for $13.2 million on Regent Carolina Corporation, which had not yet transferred control of the golf course, common areas, and roads to the Regent Park homeowners association.[6] The golf course was subsequently sold to a new company, Southern Gailes.[7]

The former Heritage USA property today[edit]

The Heritage Grand Hotel has been completely restored and continues to be used as a hotel and conference center, with some of the former interior hotel rooms being combined and converted into private condominiums. The portions of the hotel comprising the condos is known as Heritage Court & Heritage Suites. The hotel's atrium is used as a church for MorningStar's local congregation, MorningStar Fellowship Church. While the hotel is still known as the Heritage Grand Hotel, the complex which comprises the hotel, shops & conference area has been renamed Heritage International Ministries (HIM). HIM had its grand opening in September 2007, and its spiritual grand opening on January 1, 2008.[8]

The property encompassing the "Jerusalem Amphitheater" (a.k.a. "King's Arena") and campground is owned by real estate developer Earl Coulston. With the exception of the campgrounds which have been renovated and are now known as Crown International Campgrounds, the outdoor amphitheater has been demolished. A large portion of the amphitheater was demolished as a part of announced plans by Coulston to retrofit it with a roof and turn it into a venue for youth concerts. This never materialized and the amphitheater remained abandoned for many years before being torn down in October 2012. Developer Earl Coulston entered into a lease/purchase agreement in April 2009 with Charlotte-based The Broadcast Group, a multimedia production and training company founded in 1986 by former PTL Television Network executive Dr. Dale Hill for the portion of the property encompassing the former "Barn Auditorium", "Total Learning Center", and "PTL Television Network Studios". The site was renamed "The Broadcast Group Complex". The former PTL Television Studios and adjacent Total Learning Center complex were almost immediately renovated and reopened upon the closing of the lease/purchase agreement in 2009. The Barn Auditorium renovations were completed in April 2012 and the facility reopened at that time. It was rebranded as The Barn at Regent Park. In February 2014, The Broadcast Group suddenly relocated their operations from the buildings to an office park off nearby Carowinds Boulevard in Fort Mill, South Carolina and shortly thereafter it was announced that all of the buildings and the surrounding 18-acre property were acquired by Antioch International Church, a church and ministry operating from a converted/renovated former PTL warehouse near the Heritage Grand Hotel for $3.81 million on April 24, 2014 per the York County, SC tax records. Antioch has moved their church to the property at 8400 Regent Parkway and now uses the former Barn Auditorium as their new church home.

In January 2009, a group billing themselves "Friends of The Upper Room" created an online petition to Flames-of-Fire Ministry and Coulston Enterprises, then owners of The Upper Room, asking them to consider donating the building to another ministry or selling it at a reduced price in order to save the property from rumored demolition plans. Initial indications from representatives of the property's owners in early 2008 were that the building may be demolished to make way for a Coulston-planned townhouse complex. However, later reports indicated that this project and others on the site may have been put on hold due to the sagging economy. Hence, the Upper Room building and other surrounding properties were placed up for sale.[9] As of November 2010, over 565 concerned persons and interested parties had signed the petition asking that the building be spared and reopened as rumors continued to circulate that the building's owners planned to demolish it. In May 2010, the Friends of the Upper Room called for daily worldwide prayer beginning May 8, 2010, and asked interested persons from around the world to pray about the building's future and lift up its owners in prayerful support. On November 19, 2010, it was announced that The Upper Room had been acquired by Christian concert promoter Russell James, who planned to begin renovations December 1, 2010, with a scheduled January 1, 2011, reopening and it would be known as Upper Room Chapel. The facility has undergone extensive restoration both inside and out, with the famed outdoor "Walk of Faith" being restored and is again used for its original purpose, a house of intercessory prayer. It will ultimately once again be open twenty-four hours a day, with live video streaming so that persons visiting the website will be able to see the happenings at the chapel.

On February 25, 2013 Jim Bakker and his wife Lori returned to the former Heritage USA property in Fort Mill, South Carolina and broadcast his Jim Bakker Show from his old studios located on the property. Special services were also held in the nearby Upper Room Chapel and Heritage Grand Hotel earlier in the week. This was the first time in over twenty-five years that Bakker had broadcast his show from the property. Many of his former staff and musical talent participated in what was called a "Restoration Celebration" which was well-attended by former and current ministry supporters. Bakker also announced during this time that he plans to hold future events at the old Heritage USA site and will broadcast from the Fort Mill property for special events in the future, but his ministry and studios will remain headquartered in Blue Eye, Missouri where the present day broadcast originates.

On March 19, 2013 developer Earl Coulston who purchased much of the former Heritage USA property began demolition on "The King's Castle," an abandoned arcade and go kart track that was originally to have been the world's largest Wendy's restaurant. The restaurant was under construction at the time of Jim Bakker's departure in the late 1980s; however construction ceased when Heritage USA was plunged into bankruptcy and payments to contractor Roe Messner were stopped. The castle was later completed by Heritage USA's then new owner, Regent Carolina Corporation (f/k/a New Heritage Carolina Corporation), a subdidiary of MUI Corporation of Malaysia. It was utilized for several years as an arcade and go kart track before closing and falling into disrepair and ultimately being abandoned. Coulston jointly owned the building with neighboring MorningStar Fellowship Church as his property line ran through the rear portion of the building. MorningStar had originally intended the castle to be renovated and used as a possible youth center but later determined that it had been too heavily vandalized and was in too much disrepair to renovate. Coulston approached MorningStar and offered to pay for the cost of the demolition since it was partially on his property and abutted a nearby townhome complex that he is developing. As soon as demolition began, it was halted later the same day because the contractor did not have proper permitting from the State of South Carolina or York County. Demolition resumed once the proper permits were secured and the site has since been cleared. MorningStar is seeking public input about possible future uses for the property through various social media outlets and has stated that it wants to construct something on the site that would be beneficial for the neighboring community.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "PTL Heritage USA, Fort Mill, SC". Illicitohio.com. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  2. ^ "American Notes: Fund Raising". Time. September 21, 1987. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  3. ^ http://www.scencyclopedia.com/ptlclub.htm
  4. ^ a b Fredric L. Rice, Organized Crime Civilian Response (2001-06-01). "AP 07/21 0510 PTL-Falwell By STEVE BAKER Associated Press Writer PIGEON FORGE, Tenn.". Associated Press. 
  5. ^ "Jerry Falwell". Aburriss.tripod.com. 1987-09-10. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  6. ^ Elkins, Ken (2007-01-26). "Reclaiming heritage – Charlotte Business Journal:". Bizjournals.com. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ The Nehemiah Project
  9. ^ Allen, Jonathan (2009-02-03). "Effort on to save PTL's "Upper Room" | Fort Mill Times – Fort Mill, SC". Fort Mill Times. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 

External links[edit]

Current religious uses of the property[edit]

Current secular uses of the property[edit]

  • Laura Ashley USA, Inc. - Corporate Headquarters for the Home Accessories, Women's & Children's Retailer located in the former PTL World Outreach Center (former Pyramid Building - now known as the Regent Building)
  • Regal Manor Homeowner's Association Website - Regal Manor is a collection of residential developments within a portion of the former Heritage USA property (beyond the railroad tracks) that will contain approximately 900 homes in Wellsley Ford Town Homes, Baden Village, Regal Manor, Fallbrook, Balmoral, Stanton Heights and the new developments of Bexley and Stafford.
  • Regent Park Golf Club & Academy — Regent Park Golf Club Home page.
  • Regent Park Homeowner's Association Website - The portion of the former Heritage USA located between Highway 21 and the railroad tracks.
  • Crown International Campground - Former PTL campgrounds - newly remodeled.

Miscellaneous[edit]

  • Standing But Not Operating — Photos of the past and present. Includes 145 pictures of the park as it stood in 2005.
  • Heritage USA Group — Current Heritage USA photos & construction updates. (A companion site is operated on Facebook under the name "Remembering PTL & Heritage USA")
  • Heritage USA photos of the site while it was abandoned