Southland Christian expects to buy, revamp Lexington Mall for $30 million

Pastor to outline details of funding plans in Labor Day weekend sermons

bfortune@herald-leader.comAugust 24, 2010 

Southland Christian Church will decide Aug. 30 whether to commit to buying Lexington Mall on Richmond Road.

Chris Hahn, senior executive pastor, said Monday he did not see any reason for the church not to go ahead with purchasing the vacant mall.

The church Friday received an estimate of $30 million to buy the 30-acre site, demolish the one-story portion of the mall, build a 2,800-seat auditorium, renovate the two-story former Dillard's department store and create a green space with a stream leading to a reconfigured pond with its own water feature.

Hahn called the figure from EOP Architects "a ballpark."

"We have to go back and say, is there anything we want to take out, anything we want to add in, plus calculate in the architect's fee," he said. "That's what we have to do by the 30th."

If the church decides to go forward with the purchase, the closing is likely to be Oct. 1, Hahn said.

Pastor Jon Weece talked to the congregation of the Harrodsburg Road mega-church over the weekend about the project.

He said that in sermons on Sept. 4 and 5 he would talk in detail about how the Lexington Mall project can be funded using several sources, including individual contributions, "what we have in the bank and what we can do creatively with loans.

"To incur no debt, that is always our goal," Weece said.

Hahn said Weece's announcement was, essentially, the launch of a $30 million capital fund drive.

In terms of individual giving, Weece said if each member gave $1,000 a year for the next three years — or about $20 per week, per person for three years — that would pay for the project. "That is all it would cost," he said.

Hahn clarified those comments Monday, saying the pastor was not telling members each person would have to give that amount. Not everybody will give equally, Hahn said. "Some will give more, some less, some not at all."

In addition to the mall, there are three businesses on the property: Applebee's and Perkins restaurants and a former gas station and car wash. Hahn said the church would sell these properties. "We do not foresee keeping them," he said. "We have no desire to be in the land business."

Nearby Home Depot and Central Bank own the property on which they are located.

Mike Scanlan, president and CEO of Thomas & King, which owns the Applebee's, said he would like to buy the property on which his restaurant is built. He has a lease with Saul Centers, the Maryland-based development firm that has owned Lexington Mall since 1974.

Mark Perkins has leased land from Sauls for his Perkins restaurant for 19 years and said, "This is the toughest year I ever had." Perkins would love to own his own property, saying, "We would be out from under somebody else's umbrella."

Southland submitted its development plans for Lexington Mall to the city's Planning Commission on Friday.

On Sept. 9, the commission will vote whether to approve the plans. Frequently, the commission grants approval with conditions attached, such as requiring detailed traffic circulation patterns, a landscaping plan or how storm run-off from the the site will be managed.

If approval is granted that afternoon, Southland will release exterior drawings of the new church.

"The church would have to comply with any conditions imposed by the Planning Commission before ... they could obtain a building permit," said Bill Sallee, manager of planning services in the Division of Planning.

Southland's decision to buy the abandoned property at Richmond Road near New Circle Road is part of a campaign to have five satellite churches in Central Kentucky by 2017. Last year, Southland bought the old Lowe's home improvement store in Danville and began holding services.

Southland has 10,000 members at its Harrodsburg Road church, which is in Jessamine County near the Fayette County line.

The goal is to see Southland bring 10,000 people to worship services by Jan. 1, 2017, at the five satellite campuses. Achieving that seven-year goal would double the number of members.

As for neighborhood reaction, Harold Snider, who lives on Pastern Court and is a former vice president of the Idle Hour Neighborhood Association, said he has heard no strong objections to Southland buying the mall property. His neighbors would prefer having a grocery store and retail shops, he said, "but a church is better than nothing."

The mall has been vacant since Dillard's closed in 2005.

"At least the site would be occupied. That would be an improvement over what's there now," Snider said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251

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