Julio Cinelli, a Camden saloon owner, opened a restaurant in a converted farmhouse on the Cherry Hill site in 1935. His son, Thomas O. Cinelli, took over the business in 1942 and built it into one of the region's premier restaurants in an era when blue laws led many Philadelphians to dine in New Jersey, where they could drink late at night and on Sundays.
Cinelli's heyday was in the 1950s and '60s. The decline began in the late '70s and early '80s, as the blue laws were relaxed west of the Delaware River and the old-time Jersey roadhouses suffered a new form of competition - the Atlantic City casinos.
Faced with poor revenues and a heavy debt from a 1979 remodeling, the family filed for bankruptcy in 1984. The restaurant limped along under a court-appointed trustee until it closed for good last summer. In December, a federal bankruptcy judge in Trenton ordered it sold to the highest bidder, Rouse & Associates.
In the spring, the property was subject to a building moratorium issued by the state Council on Affordable Housing, which restricted development in Cherry Hill to make sure sufficient land was preserved for low-cost housing. Last month, the housing council granted Rouse an exemption to the moratorium, agreeing with the developer's assertion that the Cinelli's site is not suitable for housing.
Although Rouse had expected in the winter to begin construction this summer, Heimerl said, the schedule was pushed back four to five months by delays in completing architectural plans.
Rouse expects to file a preliminary site plan with the township in the fall, Heimerl said.
The company probably will propose a 250,000 square-foot office building that will include a bank and an "upscale restaurant" using the liquor license that came with the property, he said.