Tim Saunders/WDBJ7 Web Staff
2:40 PM EDT, October 24, 2012
We're learning more about Liberty University's plans for the Sears store at River Ridge Mall.
The school hopes to turn the space into a civic center. Conceptual drawings were released Wednesday, showing a possible arena, exhibit hall, and high-rise hotel on the site.
"I think it will be good for all of the stores in the mall to have another vibrant, exciting use that brings in a lot of people every day," said Liberty University Chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr.
Sears announced Tuesday that the building had been sold to Liberty University, and that the store will close in late-January.
Liberty University has had informal discussions with Lynchburg's city manager about its plans, but no formal discussions have been held. The idea has not been presented to city council.
Liberty University would be a tenant of the civic center, and would use it for athletic events and large gatherings. The Vines Center would be used as a convocation center.
Falwell said the city of Lynchburg would own the civic center, but Liberty would be a large financial contributor.
"Our involvement and the number of uses, per-year, we would have there is what makes the facility economically feasible," Falwell said.
Liberty purchased the 112,000-square foot building and 700 parking spaces for $6.9-million.
Virginia's Region 2000 Partnership released a study last year that showed a civic center would be viable in Lynchburg, if Liberty was a major tenant.
Region 2000 Executive Director Bryan David called Wednesday's news a "significant development."
"I think this now gives us an opportunity to start looking at this as a desirable location," David said, adding that he looked forward to seeing the project move forward.
"I think [Liberty] is really owed a whole lot of credit for getting us to this point, where we can seriously consider this as a potential public asset," said David.
The Sears at River Ridge Mall in Lynchburg will close in January and the building has been sold to Liberty University, a Sears spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
Sears informed its 84 employees Tuesday of the store’s impending closure.
Liquidation sales will begin early next month.
Employees who are eligible will receive severance and have the opportunity to apply for jobs at other area Sears or Kmart stores.
Liberty University has not said how it plans to re-develop the site.
Sears was an original tenant of the River Ridge Mall, which opened in 1980.
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