Rising from a Mission Valley site that was once a liquor store, motel, gas station and fitness center is the $200 million dream of a San Diego televangelist — a resort center meant to become a new tourist attraction for the city.
Construction is in the final stages of the Bible-themed Legacy International Center on Hotel Circle South where Interstate 8 meets state Route 163.
Made largely of glistening limestone rock quarried in Israel, the center will have a 126-room hotel, a 500-seat performing arts theater, casual and formal dining options, a show fountain that’s visible from the freeways, an International Experience Center with a 100-seat movie theater that features a hang gliding tour of Israel, an underground stone maze replica of the catacombs of ancient Rome, a 6,000 square-foot conference center, and an open air plaza with a replica of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and an international marketplace meant to resemble the open-air markets of the Middle East.
Designed by Carrier Johnson + Culture with Clark Construction as the general contractor, the religious-themed center being built by Morris Cerullo had a soft opening of sorts in December with an outdoor Christmas performance that highlighted the fountain with dancing streams of water that are choreographed to accompany a musical show.
A formal opening is set for March, but already a number of religious groups, community organizations and wedding parties have had events at Legacy.
“The purpose of Legacy originally was as a ministry,” said Jim Penner, executive director of Legacy Center Foundation.
Cerullo, 88, had traveled the globe training people but decided he wanted a place in his hometown where people could come for their training, Penner said.
Over time, that morphed into building an 18-acre resort that would focus on Cerullo’s ministry and be the headquarters for Morris Cerullo World Evangelism but also be a place open to the general community.
The group had been headquartered in a 73,672 square-foot building in Kearny Mesa, which it sold in April for $9.4 million and moved its offices to the Mission Valley center at the end of the year.
Training Center, Travel Destination
The Legacy International Center will act as a retreat for Cerullo’s followers and a training center for his worldwide ministry at various times during the year, Penner said.
For the rest of the time, it will be a destination resort for the general public, hosting weddings and civic events.
“It’s a great luxury resort for the people of San Diego,” Penner said.
Among its most visible features for passing motorists is the fountain at the north side of the open plaza at the center of the campus, with a casual restaurant and patio to the side overlooked by an outdoor amphitheater.
Lighted jets of water streaming from 30 fountain head are choreographed to move with music, dancing with the music, as they did with Christmas music during the soft opening in December.
“We wanted a show fountain,” Penner said. “At night, it’s pretty spectacular, it’s pretty colorful.”
The fountain is the work of Outside the Lines Inc. (OTL) of Anaheim and Aquatic Design Group of Carlsbad.
“It’s really there as a draw to really create a sense of excitement about the project,” said Chris Roy, OTL director of creative design. Describing the Legacy International fountain as a mini-version of the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, Roy said the 60 square-foot fountain took six months to build with the jets of water synchronized by computer to rise and fall with the musical notes of the performance it’s accompanying.
To the side of the fountain is a replica of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem — 16-feet tall and 100 feet long.
Adjacent to the Wailing Wall replica on the east side of the plaza is the Legacy International Experience Center.
The Experience Center has an 18-foot tall globe inside that will give visitors a chance to learn about various cultures along with other displays. Admission will be about $17 per person, Penner said.
The globe, which is actually a half-sphere rising from the floor, is “a rounded, LED television set essentially,” Penner said.
Touch-screen panels surround the globe. By touching a geographic area on a panel, a corresponding section of the globe will light up and the image of a person will appear on the globe talking about the highlighted portion.
“That stemmed from Dr. Cerullo traveling the world,” Penner said. “It’s a way to learn about the nations of the world and the people and populations of the world beyond the newspaper headlines.”
The activity center also will include a movie theater/ride designed by the same person who designed the Soaring Over California ride at Disney California Adventure Park.
Initially, the video will take visitors on a hang-gliding tour of Israel, but Penner said plans are in the works to make a similar video tour of San Diego.
“I want to launch somebody off an aircraft carrier in that theater or hang glider off Torrey Pines,” Penner said.
The Experience Center also includes the underground catacomb exhibit with artwork by 3-D artist Kurt Wenner depicting scenes from the New Testament.
'Walking Through the New Testament'
You’re kind of walking through the New Testament, so to speak,” Penner said.
The five-story hotel is built on a rising slope at the south end of the center.
“At the top two floors, you can actually see SeaWorld,” Penner said.
Daily room rates will average $175, Penner said.
The hotel also will have a fine dining restaurant — Theresa’s Prime Steak House.
“We’re only going to serve prime steaks and the filets are thick, Penner said.
To ease traffic congestion around the center, Legacy widened two lanes of Hotel Circle in front of the center.
Events also will be timed to avoid rush hour, with most scheduled for weekends, Penner said.
The area is notorious for flooding during heavy rains, but Penner said that the flooding will be alleviated by a bio-filtration system that captures most of the water coming that washes down the hillside from Hillcrest.
“You don’t have the big runoff into the street that came off of this property,” Penner said.
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