Megachurch asks public for input on mall purchase

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Southland Christian Church plans to buy the site of the old Lexington Mall on Richmond Road. Church officials met with the public and answered questions Tuesday night about what they plan to do with the property.

Church leaders know they want to have a worship center, a children's center, and possibly some classrooms, but beyond that, they say the property is an empty canvas, and they wanted to hear from the public before making any definitive plans.

While the old Lexington Mall remains boarded up and fenced off to the public, crowds packed a tent set up in the parking lot for a look at the first signs of life for the property in years.

Southland's plan is to turn the former mall into the second of five satellite campuses as part of an ambitious expansion. "That's kind of our vision. 10-7-5. Ten thousand more people over the course of the next seven years through five campuses," Pastor Chris Hahn said.

In fact, Hahn says his dream is that the Lexington site could someday outgrow the church's main campus. "That is a real potential, that the reaching capacity here because the population is so much greater here than it is in Jessamine County where we are that, sure, this could potentially grow beyond the size that we even envision at this point in time," Hahn said.

But church leaders say they can't do it alone. That's why they hope events like this one will draw the support of the community they're joining. "It's a relief to us to see that it's going to be put for a good use and that more than likely is going to be well taken care of," Idle Hour Neighborhood Alliance President Jim Capley said.

Even if Southland wasn't the first choice of neighbors for some, the church seemed to make progress winning over the crowd. "It was a little difficult," Nearby resident Kathy Hall said, "I was hoping to have another retail. It was sort of handy having the retail right on my doorstep, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to look at this very positively, and see what I can do to be of help."

Church leaders say there's still a long way to go. They'll spend up to 60 days finalizing a deal with the property owner, then another 120 days getting approval from the city, and they don't expect to close on the deal until after the first of next year.

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