Feb 2, 2010

Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. talks with Champion about Candler’s Station

by Amanda Sullivan

How long have the negotiations for the purchase been going on?

I heard last spring that the owner of Candler’s Station Shopping Center had agreed to sell Candler’s Station along with dozens of other shopping centers across the country to a group of investors, but that the buyers had refused to include Candler’s Station in the purchase at the last minute. I flew out to Las Vegas for the National Retailers Convention in May and visited DDR’s booth. DDR is a large, publicly traded corporation and its booth was really more like an office building set up inside the convention center just for the show. We learned that Candler’s Station was not for sale even though many other DDR centers across the country were available. We went home thinking that the property could not be purchased by Liberty.

During the following months, we continued to express interest in the center and, finally, DDR agreed to take an offer. Our advisers in Richmond told us that they did not believe DDR would sell for less than $20 million based on the income the center was producing and based on the credit strength of the retail tenants in the center. We were not willing to invest that much in the center, so we offered $14 million. DDR indicated they were willing to accept $16.3 million. I took this offer to our board in November of last year. The board voted that Liberty should buy the center at that price.

Are there any more specific plans for the land?

Right, now, our plan is to hold the center as an investment for Liberty’s endowment. We are talking to prospective tenants for the old Circuit City space and the former Steve & Barry’s space. When the economy improves and new shopping centers are built, it is likely that the stores will relocate. When that happens, the property will become an ideal site for Liberty to expand its campus. We learned when renovating Campus North that it is much less expensive to renovate existing buildings than to build new (buildings).

What are plans for the 11-14% return from the shopping mall?

The return on our investment will help fund the institutional aid that we provide to the students every year. In recent years, Liberty has awarded $100 million in scholarships and other aid to its students. The purpose of an endowment at any college is to generate income to pay for scholarships. We hope that Candler’s Station will continue to thrive as a retail shopping center for many years to come.

Will this purchase impact tuition?

Every dollar that comes to Liberty, either through contributions or through investments like Candler’s Mountain Station, is a dollar that the school does not have to charge its students through tuition and fee increases. Contributions and healthy returns on investments like this one also enable us to improve facilities and programs at Liberty, thereby enhancing the educational experience for our students. This is why I asked students in convocation last week to thank God for the many ways he is blessing the university.


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