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Medill Belief and Public Life

Holy Land Experience chief resigns 10 weeks into TBN takeover

TBN insists its business as usual at the park
By Brad Flora, August 28, 2007

ORLANDO -- The former head of the Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando has resigned his position and vacated his seat on the park's board amid a restructuring and staff reductions, park officials confirmed Tuesday.

The departure of Tom Powell, the park's chief executive officer, comes just two months after the “living biblical museum” merged with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest religious television network. The resignation of Powell, who had been the only board member not directly related to Paul Crouch Sr., the network's founder and current president, consolidates full control of the park in TBN hands.

Powell's resignation, tendered August 21, came just weeks after he was named CEO for the park. He was replaced as president by Paul Crouch Sr.'s son, Paul Crouch Jr., TBN spokesman John Casoria said Tuesday. "He’s going to be the go-to guy to be there to deal with procedures and processes," Casoria said of Crouch.

In a statement Tuesday, the TBN said Powell is "moving on to the next challenge" after "having completed his calling." Casoria was tightlipped about Powell's reasons for leaving due to a nondisclosure agreement, he said.

"That’s in Tom’s heart of hearts," Casoria said. "All I know is that he submitted a resignation. He was offered positions doing similar things at other places, even in the secular world, where he'd be paid a lot more money."

The network is drafting a new organizational flowchart for the park's management to be unveiled sometime in the next few months, according to Casoria. In the meantime, he’s not too worried about how the park runs.

"I'm fairly certain there aren’t going to be any hiccups," he said. "The place runs itself."

Powell was named president of the Holy Land Experience in 2005, following the park’s separation from its parent ministry, Zion’s Hope, and its founder, Baptist minister and Jewish convert Marv Rosenthal. Tasked with righting a ship that had sunk more than $4 million into debt under Rosenthal’s leadership, Powell worked to boost the park's credit rating and brokered the deal that led the TBN and its deep pockets to assume control in June of this year.

Powell is not the only key employee to leave in the last 30 days. The TBN has terminated two positions, the park's director of production and a park operations position, because their positions had become "duplicates" following the merger, Casoria said. The park's production department is now directed by the TBN's own production staff, based in Santa Ana, Calif.

Despite these changes to top personnel, Casoria says the TBN has no intention of changing the mission or ministry of the Holy Land Experience.

"We're still spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and using the park to do so," he says. "We have the same ministerial staff as before the TBN took over. We don't want it to change. It works in complete and total sync with TBN."

For previous reporting on this topic, including the comment from a self-described former Holy Land Experience employee that sparked this story, click here:

The Holy Land Experience: Who shall inherit the kingdom?

Previous reporting on the Holy Land Experience:

Who shall inherit the kingdom? Employees at a troubled Christian theme park find hope—and God—in their new partnership

Steve Bleiler, 40, plays the role of Jesus at the Holy Land Experience on Saturdays. He says God is using the Trinity Broadcasting Network to raise up the park for future ministry efforts. Photo: Brad Flora

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Students from Medill School at Northwestern University spent eight months examining the connection between belief and public life in the United States, a pursuit that carried them everywhere from tattoo parlors to much more traditional venues and yielded an abundance of revealing stories.

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