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Residents curious about City of Light

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By The Staff

INDIAN LAND – Joe Ramsey is worried about the City of Light.

A 30-year resident of Indian Land, Ramsey is concerned how the 90-acre campus, constructed by faith organization Inspiration Networks, will impact his community.

Ramsey fears the project, which includes a WorldReach Center and soon-to-be-completed International Prayer Center, will put a strain on his neighborhood.

He isn’t as much worried about the City of Light headquarters, as he is about the additional construction projects that come along with it.

“I think it’s fine, except most people don’t realize what else County Council approved,” Ramsey said. “We need to make people aware what County Council has done to us on this issue. It’s been swept under the rug.”

He worries about the commercial and residential projects that were approved along with the City of Light, which includes several mid-rise houses and retail space.

“It will overflow the roads and the school systems, which are overloaded anyway,” Ramsey said. “We don’t need something like that.”

City of Light, a $100 million commercial investment project located off U.S. 521, broke ground in November 2006.

Its first building, a headquarters called the WorldReach Center, held its official dedication in April 2008, and now houses almost 200 Inspiration Networks employees.

Inspiration Networks is one of several organizations under parent company Inspiration Ministries, an extensive faith organization.

According to the development agreement entered into between the City of Light and the county in February 2007, the county approved several uses for the property. They include general offices, television broadcast and production, warehousing operations, a World Prayer Center, tea room, hotel, teen center, sports park, retail commercial development, an outdoor amphitheater and day care centers.

Residents curious

John Roos, a senior vice president and spokesperson for Inspiration Ministries, said he has fielded several questions from members of the Indian Land community about the project. And since many of the buildings on the campus have not yet opened to the public, Roos said it’s been difficult answering their questions.

“Believe me, this has been a problem for us, we’ve gotten a lot of interest,” Roos said. “People approach us and ask if the chapel is going to be available. People want to know if they can have community events there. We really haven’t answered those questions.”

He said the only available building is the headquarters and it’s not equipped to handle social functions.

Roos said the campus will have its official grand opening Feb. 27 through March 1. The International Prayer Center, which will house a chapel, welcome center, coffee shop and space for prayer ministers, will debut to the public during the grand opening.

There will also be several guests featured during the festivities, including Pat Robertson, Christ Tabernacle Choir, Judy Jacobs and Alicia Williamson Garcia.

“We’re asking people to be a little patient,” Roos said. “There will be an opportunity for the community at last to have something to do here.”

County: ‘Going pretty smooth’

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said there have been no complaints to the county about the construction of the City of Light.

“They got it looking good out there,” Willis said. “It’s been going pretty smooth.”

Willis said the first phase, which included the construction of offices, warehouses and the World Prayer Center, is mostly complete.  

The production facilities, outdoor amphitheater, retail and commercial developments are not expected to be completed until 2009. Long-range plans include the sports park,  hotel/conference center and more office buildings.

Questions about finances

There have also been recent questions about how the City of Light, and Inspiration Networks, receives its funding.

A recent story by WCNC News Channel 36 in Charlotte shined a spotlight on the City of Light, looking into how donations are used throughout the organization.

Warren Smith, from ministry watchdog group Wall Watchers, was interviewed as part of the TV station’s investigation.

Smith’s group reviews financial statements from ministries around the country and grades them based on their transparency.

The group became interested in knowing where the millions of dollars that are donated to the organization are allocated, and why some advertisements ask donors to send money directly to David Cerullo, Inspiration Networks’ president and CEO.

And while Wall Watchers has yet to grade Inspiration Networks and hasn’t found any discrepancies, the group is concerned with where donor money goes.

“Our primary concern is that even if you agree with their theology, they have a moral and legal responsibility to be open and transparent,” Smith said in the WCNC report.

Roos said it’s completely normal for his organization to accept donations. He compares his group to other churches, ministries or charities that receive funding from citizens.

“We get a lot of our support from people who believe in what we do,” Roos said.

Roos said anyone can give any amount they want.

“Some people on our list give only $1,” he said. “These are all individual decisions that people make. If you don’t feel like doing it, then you don’t have to do it.”

Roos said the organization also generates revenue from advertisements and sponsorships, as well as from its for-profit production facility, MediaComm, based in Charlotte.

He insists there have been no irregularities with Inspiration Networks’ accounting.

“We’ve never had a problem with auditing,” Roos said. “We try real hard to be solid citizens. We have a good relationship with the IRS, the states of South Carolina and North Carolina and the people we work with.”

‘A positive for the community’

Not all Indian Land residents are fearful of the project.

Bryan Vaughn, who lives in the area, is upbeat about the City of Light.

“The facility itself has been a positive for the community,” said Vaughn, who has served as a County Council member the past four years. “It’s certainly well constructed  and has beautiful landscaping. It was done in a first-class way.”

Vaughn, who is also the director of safety and transportation for the Lancaster County School District, said the project will have ties to the community.

He expects there will be plenty of partnerships with local entities, as well as partnerships with the school system with student internships in the broadcast journalism arena.

Vaughn, who did not seek re-election to council and whose successor, Larry McCullough, will be sworn in to office Monday, said it’s too soon to tell how the project will affect Indian Land.

“As far as impact, we haven’t felt the impact yet,” Vaughn said. “We won’t really see it until about a year down the road.”

Roos expects City of Light will become an important part of Indian Land.

“It’s a wonderful place for prayer,” Roos said. “It’s always been our goal to make this a place for the community.”

 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416