Pastor plans additions to religion/retail center

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By SETH STERN

With the new year just around the corner, Pastor Bill Winston of the Living Word Christian Center is planning some major moves in his quest to make his vision of a "one stop shop for the spirit, soul and body" at the Forest Park Mall a reality.

In addition to the new high-end clothing retailer David Samuel, which opened in November, Winston plans to bring a health care clinic, an office and computer supply store and a bank into the mall in the first quarter of next year. The new additions will join already up-and-running establishments including the Ultra Foods grocery store and the Royal Christian Bookstore.

The medical and dental clinic, Winston said, will be geared toward uninsured or underinsured people who need basic treatment but cannot afford a $500 ER bill.

"We want it so you can come in and get quick care. It's for people who have minor ailmentsâ€"strep throat, for example, or small accidents," he said. "We're looking at charging people between $25 and $45 in cash."

The clinic, which has not yet been named, will be staffed mainly by doctors who are among the 15,000 or so members of Living Word's congregation, and will be located in the retail area of the mall facing Roosevelt Road, west of David Samuel, according to Winston.

Though details are still sketchy regarding the bank, Winston said that it has been in planning for over three years and is on track to open with FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) accreditation in early 2006. A sign for the Guaranty Bank is already up at its future site on the east end of the mall.

The professional store, Winston said, will also offer computer service as well as six-week computer training courses geared toward senior citizens. Later in the year, Winston said, he hopes to open a gym and fitness center at the mall as well. He already has several staff members actively researching equipment.

Winston's retail operations fall under the umbrella of City Services, Inc., the for-profit division of his empire which he began in 1997 before purchasing the mall for about $10 million. Winston, a native of Tuskegee, Ala., started his ministry in 1989 with a congregation of 12.

Forest Park officials remain cautiously optimistic regarding Winston's vision for the future of the mall. "Development has been coming along at a nice pace, though it would have been nice if it was a bit quicker," said Mayor Anthony Calderone.

Calderone acknowledged that the village does take a slight hit due to the church itself being exempt from property taxes as a religious institution. "Anytime you take any property off the tax rolls it's certainly going to have some effect overall," he said.

Joseph Business School

As he seeks to bring more businesses into the Forest Park Mall, Winston may not need to look far, as he has an eager crop of entrepreneurs right in the building. The Illinois Department of Education-certified Joseph Center for Business Development has been providing 9-month crash courses in business at the mall since 1998.

The center, according to director Mark Muse, combines practical instruction by visiting lecturers from top business schools, including Harvard and Northwestern with bible-based lessons in business ethics. Winston is a constant presence at the school, and teaches three classes each term.

The school's students, who range from recent GED recipients to licensed attorneys, either enter the school with a vision for their future business or develop one soon after beginning the course. Their proposed business plan is then put through a "feasibility study"â€"which Muse said ensures that students are not confusing hobbies with businessesâ€"after which students are guided through the necessary steps toward making their business a reality.

In addition to lectures, which are held every Saturday morning, students are taken on field trips to explore successful area businesses and are able to intern at existing businesses in the mall, while participating in the planning stages of future undertakings, including a bottled water company.

The 9 month course costs $2,625.

In response to an "inundation" of phone calls and e-mails from around the country as well as interest in the school expressed to Winston during his travels around the world, Muse said, the school is working to develop an interactive component which would allow students to view videotaped lectures and complete the course online.

Those who need some extra guidance after graduating from the school are able to rent space in the Joseph Center's "incubator program," also located on the lower level of the Forest Park Mall. There, students are able to rent office space at a nominal fee for up to two years, taking advantage of secretarial support and business consultation offered through the center.

"Most entrepreneurs who don't succeed either don't have a strong plan or are undercapitalized," said Muse. "We can assist with that."

Muse joined the Living Word congregation in 1997 after visiting the church with his sister, who was already a member. He soon began volunteering and "before I knew it was spending more time volunteering than on my own business, and from there it evolved into a full-time paid position."

More information on the school is available at www. josephcenter.com.

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