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Liberty presents city with draft proposal for new civic center

April 2, 2014 : Liberty University News Service

Liberty University has presented Lynchburg officials with a draft proposal that could serve as the outline for an agreement between the university and the city for a new civic center in Lynchburg. The proposal calls for the university to pay for its use of and to finance the construction of a new regional civic center on Candlers Mountain Road near its juncture with the U.S.460/U.S. 29 bypass.

The university would provide the land for the facility and would allow the civic center to avail itself of some university parking spaces during major events scheduled when classes are not in session.

Under the proposal, the city would own and maintain ongoing operational control of the facility by creating a special purpose Sports Authority. Liberty would agree to a long-term lease which would require it to pay annual rent for the right of first refusal for 40 to 45 event dates including all men’s basketball and hockey games, concerts and other special events. The Vines Center would continue to host convocation and sporting events that do not draw large numbers of off-campus participants driving to campus (parking is very limited near Vines).

”Many cities the size of Lynchburg (and even smaller cities) have built civic centers without the benefit of a major anchor tenant like Liberty University. This project would greatly benefit both Liberty and the local community in my view,” said President Jerry Falwell.

Construction of a local civic center was deemed a top priority several years ago in surveys conducted by Regional Renaissance, a government-sponsored exercise that sought citizen input in establishing regional project priorities.

A national consultant recently determined that a civic center would be economically viable only if Liberty would agree to be a primary customer in a civic center venture.

Liberty hopes to move its athletic programs to NCAA FBS status, which means its athletics teams will be attracting a higher level of competition to Lynchburg and will be drawing much larger attendance by the region’s sports fans. A civic center with ample parking would better accommodate the expected crowds. Over the past several years, the university has made significant improvements to many of its other athletic facilities.

”Liberty has other options in its master plans to accommodate the projected growth in its athletic programs.  While the amount that Liberty is willing to pay for the construction and use of the new arena is limited to an amount that is roughly equal to what it would cost Liberty to build and renovate facilities on campus to meet its needs, the university wanted to give the local community the opportunity to create this shared facility. With the Roanoke area’s two civic centers aging, the timing may be right for Lynchburg to bring home many cultural and entertainment events that local residents have historically had to drive out of town to attend,” said Falwell. 

Given Liberty’s rapid rate of growth, this may also be a short-lived opportunity for the city. “We need the city to decide quickly whether or not this civic center will become a reality. The consultants have spent several years studying the idea and working with city officials on the details. If the city does not express strong interest at this point, Liberty will need to move ahead with its on-campus plans. Either option will work well for Liberty,” Falwell said. 

Another significant wrinkle in the Liberty proposal is that the new civic center will be located on the fields in front of Thomas Road Baptist Church, not at the old Sears location in the mall. This change was made after traffic engineers concluded that the cost of a new bridge and other road improvements for the old Sears site would greatly exceed the cost of road improvements for the TRBC site. 

Should the project move forward, either TRBC or LCA (and possibly both) would likely need to be relocated. In that event, Liberty would purchase the buildings of TRBC and/or LCA and convert them to Liberty academic uses. New facilities for the church and/or school would be constructed on property now owned by Liberty along US 460/29 at the new Odd Fellows Road interchange or in Campbell County. Pastor Jonathan Falwell announced this possibility to church members at TRBC several weeks ago.