By Ken Williams | Editor
Controversial televangelist’s massive project up for review
A controversial Pentecostal televangelist who recently purchased the San Diego Resort Hotel complex in Mission Valley has proposed a massive mixed-use redevelopment project that would include a religious retreat, underground catacombs, a Jerusalem-style Wailing Wall, an outdoor amphitheater and bazaar, a TV studio, and timeshare units for his followers.
Morris Cerullo — the 84-year-old televangelist who proclaims to be a faith healer and miracle worker — bases his global ministry at 3545 Aero Court in San Diego’s Serra Mesa neighborhood. The proposed Morris Cerullo Legacy International Center would be built at 875 Hotel Circle South on 18.1 acres located off Interstate 8 in Mission Valley.
“The mission of the Morris Cerullo Legacy Center is to equip the Body of Christ to work the works of God until Jesus comes. Through God’s plan for evangelism, the Morris Cerullo Legacy Center will continue to train an army for God who will then be able to train others,” Cerullo’s website states.
The ambitious project has so far flown under the media’s radar. The Mission Valley Planning Group (MVPG) and its Design Advisory Board (DAB) were given informational presentations at their meetings earlier this year, and the DAB criticized the project’s initial “Ancient Rome” architectural style and its overuse of domes for not fitting into the neighborhood.
“This project has not received much attention,” said John W. Nugent, a member of the planning group. “The last time the MVPG reviewed it, briefly, was March 2015.
“I believe that if the community was aware of the project, there would be a great deal of interest, and some opposition,” he said.
The project — and its revised design style that has been updated to reflect a more traditional Mediterranean/Tuscan motif — will be formally presented to the Design Advisory Board at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 4 and the planning group at noon Jan. 6. Both sessions will be at the Mission Valley Library, located at 2123 Fenton Parkway.
The project’s first big hurdle will be the completion of the Environmental Impact Review (EIR). The public comment period will end on Jan. 15, Nugent said. To review 10 lengthy documents related to the EIR, visit bit.ly/1XQvuJo.
The proposed Legacy Center would include six buildings:
—The Welcoming Center, a two-story, 17,000-square-foot structure. According to Cerullo’s website: “Through a stunning multi-media presentation, visitors will witness the drama of God imparting into Morris Cerullo’s spirit that His heartbeat is wrapped up in one word —SOULS. The center of the Rotunda will feature an immense, life-sized mural that will lead visitors through the amazing life and ministry of Morris Cerullo.”
—History Dome Theater and artifact museum, comprising 30,000 square feet.
—The underground Catacombs, 6,000 square feet of retail space and a learning center.
—Training Center Pavilion, totaling 105,000 square feet and including a grand foyer, learning center, retail gift shop, restaurant, theater, TV studio and a wellness center.
—Timeshare Legacy Village, 127 timeshare units in a five-story structure totaling 136,000 square feet that will be located on the far southeast portion of the property.
—Executive offices, a three-story building providing 23,000 square feet of office space.
A 300-seat amphitheater with a raised stage will be built between the main buildings and the timeshares.
An underground parking structure with 314 stalls will take up 114,000 square feet and an above-ground parking structure with 280 stalls will be 94,000 square feet.
A central plaza and outdoor water feature is planned, along with a large outdoor swimming lagoon. It is not known at this time if California’s drought restrictions will impact the water feature, which project officials said was being considered as a way to mitigate noise from the nearby freeway.
According to the planning group, “The proposed mixed-use project requires a Process Five Community Plan Amendment, Atlas Specific Plan Amendment, Rezone, Site Development Permit, Planned Development Permit, Conditional Use Permit and Vesting Tentative Map to construct a mixed-use development with religious, non-denominational, faith-based entertainment Center, Museum, timeshare, administrative, recreational and commercial uses.”
So who is Morris Cerullo? He was born to Russian Jewish and Italian parents on Oct. 2, 1931 in Passaic, New Jersey. He was orphaned at age 2 when his parents died in a car crash, and sent to an Orthodox Jewish orphanage. But he became a Christian during his teenage years, eventually embracing the Pentecostal faith and becoming ordained in the early 1950s by the Assemblies of God. He is the founder of the Morris Cerullo World Evangelism as well as the Morris Cerullo Schools of Ministry.
Cerullo made a big splash in 1990 when he bought the assets of televangelist Jim Bakker’s bankrupt ministry, PTL. Among those assets, the bankruptcy court approved Cerullo’s $7 million offer to buy PTL’s cable TV operation, The Inspiration Network, and which has since been spun into a new entity called The Inspiration Networks. Cerullo’s son, David, is president and CEO of that company, which is based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Throughout his pastoral career, Cerullo has been dogged by controversies. His Schools of Ministry have been set up in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America to convert the natives to his brand of Christianity. His claims of being a faith healer and miracle worker have come into dispute, particularly in the United Kingdom where a BBC documentary told the story of a woman who believed Cerullo healed her of epilepsy, so she stopped taking her medication and died.
In 1992, Cerullo was expelled from India after disturbances tarnished his large rallies where he vowed to heal people, according to the Times of India. When audience members were not healed of their afflictions, the crowd turned against the televangelist and called him a “cheat.” The San Diego Union-Tribune later reported on Cerullo’s banishment from India.
Cerullo has also come under fire from rabbis for his efforts to convert Jews to his faith.
Then there are accusations that Cerullo underrepresented his income from 1998 through 2000, and he was indicted by a grand jury. But in 2007, the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, dismissed charges against Cerullo of filing a false tax return on a technicality after the prosecutor gave inadequate and inaccurate explanations to the grand jury.
Cerullo is also outspoken in his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — urging his followers to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June — as well as LGBT rights.
To learn more about the ministry, visit its website at bit.ly/1XXcrI2.
—Ken Williams is editor of Mission Valley News and Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.