In Moorestown, there's much work to do to prepare for liquor sales

Posted: November 10, 2011

Tuesday night, after it became clear that Moorestown voters had overturned their town's 100-year-old ban on alcohol sales, key backers of the change toasted their hard-fought victory - out of town.

"We went to a fine-dining establishment outside of our town and we all laughed about next year, when we will be able to go to a fine-dining establishment inside our town," said Seth Broder, a former councilman who led a taxpayer group's effort to go wet.

Joining the celebration were officials of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns Moorestown Mall. For months, PREIT and Broder's group had campaigned to persuade voters to authorize liquor licenses at the struggling mall to lure upscale restaurants.

For township officials, who had kept aloof from the contest, mindful of political sensitivities, there was no time for a celebration or a hangover: They got busy Wednesday with next steps.

"We began our administrative review this morning with the town manager, the solicitor, and the clerk to determine what we need to do," Mayor John Button said. He declined to say which way he voted: "No matter what I say, someone will take issue with it."

A liquor license auction is expected to net the township at least $4 million.

The mall's owners also "want to get working right away," said Chris Russell, a public relations consultant for PREIT. He said that over the "next few days" there will be announcements about restaurants and plans for invigorating the mall, which he said has a 30 percent vacancy rate.

A proposal to open a 12-theater multiplex at the mall is also under review.

PREIT has said the liquor licenses will help stimulate business at the center, create local jobs, and help reduce the tax burden on residents. It also has promised to pay $4 million - about twice the recent going rate - to acquire four liquor licenses that the town will sell for use at the mall.

Before the vote, at least one renowned Philadelphia restaurateur, Marc Vetri, tied his interest in locating at the mall to its outcome.

The question of liquor sales was soundly defeated only four years ago. On Tuesday, 60 percent of the 7,000 residents who voted went the other way.

The difference this time, Broder said, was that the economy had worsened, and "people have seen the deterioration of the mall the past few years . . . and want to stop the bleeding."

"I don't want my taxes to go crazy," said Kathleen Crawford, a 44-year resident who works in finance and who voted in favor of liquor sales. "Economically, it makes sense."

Recognizing that a majority of residents did not want to change the quiet, quaint nature of their downtown, PREIT crafted a question this time that restricted liquor sales to the mall.

Bill Stone, a retired executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and a longtime resident, said he understood the distinction and voted yes.

"This is different" from the 2007 question, he said. "People have concerns about the economic viability of the Moorestown Mall and its impact on taxes." He said liquor sales at the shopping center won't "do harm to the traditions or environment of Moorestown's downtown."

Opponents, however, were skeptical about PREIT's promise to pay at least $500,000 more in annual taxes as a result of the new restaurants.

Maryann Fallows, a Realtor and resident who led the opposition, said she doubted liquor sales would bring tax relief. The campaign, she said, pitted a "large conglomerate against a few citizens" who like the town the way it is.

Fallows and other opponents also worried that liquor sales could spread to the downtown.

Crawford, however, said she was galvanized to vote after hearing "misinformation and scare tactics" from the opposition. She said the downtown won't be touched, but the mall needs a boost.

"Look at the Cherry Hill Mall," she said, referring to the lift it got after it added five restaurants with liquor licenses a couple of years ago. "I'd rather not go as far. I'd rather go here."

Button said the first step would be to have the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control review the matter. Then, at Monday's council meeting, the governing body will consider a minimum price for the liquor licenses.


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or @JanHefler on Twitter. Read her blog at http://www.philly.com/burlcobuzz

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|