LU Proposes to Build Civic Center at Sears Location

Lynchburg, VA - Sears at River Ridge Mall in Lynchburg is closing, and 84 jobs are going with it right after the holiday season.

Earlier this year, Sears announced it would close more than 60 locations.

But the space in Lynchburg won't sit empty for long because Liberty University has stepped in and purchased the building.

LU has two ideas as to what to do with this site: One, put their online school in here; two, work with the city to build a civic center.

"We think it would be an excellent site for the city's new civic center. We have some drawings to show that it would work," said Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr.

The preliminary pictures show an arena, an exhibit hall and even a hotel. For Falwell Jr., this project is long overdue.

"If we don't do it, Roanoke is going to do it. And then there's going to be another generation where Lynchburg folks have to hit the road to see any kind of cultural event," he said.

To make these drawings a reality, LU would help with capital costs. The university would not own the civic center but would be the main anchor tenant.

For two years, Region 2000s been studying the project.

"We went through a process and determined this market has gotten to the point that it can support about a 10,000 feet civic center if Liberty University is an anchor tenant of that," said Bryan David, director of Region 2000.

If the civic center doesn't work, plan B would move LU's online program from the main campus to the Sears building. The move would cut traffic and parking congestion on campus.

Two ideas are swirling, but the chancellor has his favored plan.

"I hope the civic center is the one that happens. I hope that's what the property's used for," said Falwell Jr.

Many are excited about talk of a civic center, but this is a difficult day for others since 84 people at Sears will be out of work soon.

The company says eligible staff will get severance pay and the chance to apply to other Sears and K-Mart stores in the area.