By Jenna Zibton, reporter
We're told Liberty University has been in talks for several months about buying this space. Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. says he hopes they can work with the city and turn it into a civic center.
Falwell says the purchase price was $6.9 million, and that it includes about 12,000 square feet of space and about 700 parking spaces. A space that large with parking would have cost Liberty much more to build, Falwell added, so this purchase made financial sense.
Falwell says he wants the civic center to be owned by the city of Lynchburg, much like the Roanoke Civic Center, and Liberty University would be the anchor tenant. The school would use the center for school basketball games and other events throughout the year.
"A new civic center here would bring in new business, new companies," Falwell said. "It would help Liberty grow. We think it would be a real economic benefit to the city. I really hope the city seizes on this opportunity and doesn't let it go by."
The other option would be to bring in the university's online call centers, and other operations that don't have to be on campus, freeing up more classroom space. It would still bring traffic to the existing mall stores.
"Either way, no matter which way we go, there will be more people there. 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," Falwell said. "I just don't see where it could be a negative for anybody, but we'll see how it goes."
He stressed that Liberty's talks with Sears have been confidential, so they haven't been able to talk to Lynchburg City leaders about this. The plans all depend on what the city says.
It's also not clear how fast any of this would happen, because Liberty needs to talk with the city. Falwell says this was all possible because Sears' 32-year retail operating agreement ends in February, and the space could then be used for other purposes. He says the other anchor stores all signed 45 year agreements.
Fox 21/27's Jenna Zibton confirms Liberty University leaders plan to renovate the Sears space into a civic center, and are working with the city on the plan.
Sears is closing a second local store.
Company spokesman Chris Brathwaite says Sears employees at the Lynchburg location in River Ridge Mall were told Tuesday that the store will close in late January 2013. "We made a business decision to sell the store in Lynchburg," Brathwaite said.
Liquidation sales will begin in early November. Eligible employees will receive severance, and can apply for other open positions at Sears and Kmart stores.
Liberty University will buy and redevelop the site.
Last month, Sears announced the Martinsville location at Liberty Fair Mall would close at the end of 2012. It was among a group of more than 100 store closings the company announced in December of 2011.