Liberty University Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said the 40-year-old school serves as a pivotal factor in the financial growth and health of Central Virginia’s retail, construction and real estate markets.
With more than $1 billion in assets and more than 7,000 acres of undeveloped land, Liberty’s economic impact on the Lynchburg region is substantial.
Liberty has a stated goal of enrolling 20,000 residential students in the near future, a projection that is having a positive ripple effect on collateral businesses in the region, particularly at a time that the national economy is struggling.
This spring, Liberty will begin about a quarter of a billion dollars in facility upgrades that will provide jobs for the region’s construction workers and skilled tradesmen.
Liberty itself employs more than 6,000 workers (3,591 FTE), who provide support services for the current 12,560 residential students and more than 65,000 online students who are paying tuition and fees that pump millions of dollars each year into the local economy.
The explosive growth of Liberty is a key reason that Lynchburg, Va., is seen as an emerging community among Virginia’s cities.
In the past decade, primarily because of the growth of its online student body, Liberty has rocketed past the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech in student enrollment. Liberty is now the largest four-year university in Virginia and the eighth largest private university in the country.
Over the past several years, Liberty University’s planning team has worked diligently to improve professional relationships with local and state governments. As a result, critical infrastructure improvements that will have significant positive impacts on vehicular and pedestrian safety have been completed or will be completed in the near future.
Liberty and the City of Lynchburg shared the cost of building a pedestrian bridge over heavily traveled Wards Road. Liberty also paid for a pedestrian tunnel under Norfolk Southern’s railroad tracks, where students once crossed at an at-grade crossing.
Since 2007, Liberty has made several decisions that are mutually beneficial to the university and the Central Virginia community. Liberty has agreed to move its indoor athletic events to a regional civic center if that facility is built. A feasibility study done of the project indicated that Liberty’s participation as a primary customer greatly enhances the prospects for the civic center.
Liberty also made a decision several years ago to use the Greater Lynchburg Transit Company as the primary bus service for the campus, a move that provided the once struggling bus company with about 65 percent of its ridership.
Primarily because of Liberty’s involvement, GLTC has gone from a company with dilapidated buses and frequent breakdowns to a company with dependable, eco-friendly, fuel-efficient buses.
The Amtrak proposal
Falwell believes that enhanced transportation services could provide a critical spark for Lynchburg’s economy and garner vastly improved flight and train travel opportunities for the region.
Falwell said both Roanoke and Danville are only an hour away from Lynchburg and are connected by major arterial highways (U.S. 460 and U.S. 29).
In keeping with his thinking, Liberty has proposed to Amtrak and the City of Lynchburg that it will provide the land and pay for the construction of a new Lynchburg train station adjacent to the Lynchburg Regional Airport, which could be upgraded to a regional air travel hub.
“It makes perfect sense,” Falwell said. “The location is much more convenient for all the residents of Central Virginia than the existing Amtrak station on Kemper Street. It is also about 15 minutes closer to Roanoke. Bus service was recently established for Roanoke residents using the Amtrak service in Lynchburg.”
The advantage to Liberty is that its students would be a short bus ride away from both the region’s air and train hub.
“Many of our students live in the eastern United States, most of which is served by the current daily Amtrak service,” Falwell said.
The benefit to Amtrak is that it has a potential 20,000 student customers delivered to its doorstep.
“I suspect student ridership on Amtrak would double if the train station was closer to campus,” Falwell said.
Falwell said local business owners think the concept has merit.
If the new Lynchburg civic center is built as proposed, it will contain a hotel and convention center adjacent to the airport and the proposed train station.
Odd Fellows Road Exchange
Liberty’s land holding also could provide a financial windfall if a proposed interchange is built connecting U.S. 460 and
Odd Fellows Road in Lynchburg.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has put the project in the state’s six-year transportation plan in hopes of giving industrial businesses along Odd Fellows Road direct access to the U.S. 460/U.S. 29 corridor, the major arterial highways leading in and out of Lynchburg, both east and west and north and south.
Liberty could benefit because it owns all the land for a four-mile stretch along the southside of the U.S. 460/U.S. 29 corridor from Wards Road on the west to Campbell Avenue on the east.
Liberty could sell some of the land to support businesses that crop up around the proposed interchange.
The project is expected to be one mile long and cost $30.5 million. It could be under construction as early as July 2014.