Skaters not stoked about Moorestown facility's closing

Joe Marrone, 13, works on his moves at the Black Diamond Skatepark. The business is closing as the Moorestown Mall adds four restaurants and a cineplex that will feature 3D movies and stadium seating, all a result of the town's vote to allow alcohol at the mall.
Joe Marrone, 13, works on his moves at the Black Diamond Skatepark. The business is closing as the Moorestown Mall adds four restaurants and a cineplex that will feature 3D movies and stadium seating, all a result of the town's vote to allow alcohol at the mall. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 05, 2012

The regulars at Black Diamond Skatepark in Moorestown, who ride their skateboards, BMX bikes, and scooters on the facility's maze of ramps and quarter-pipes, are bummed.

Their popular Moorestown Mall hangout will be closed next month to make way for a 12-screen cineplex featuring RealD 3D projection, surround sound, and stadium seating.

Some diehards have hinted on the skatepark's Facebook page that they may protest or "occupy" the theater when it opens next year.

"It sucks," said Anthony Dagostino, 15, of Bridgeton, as he strapped on his helmet and grabbed the handlebars of his trick bike at Black Diamond on a recent afternoon. "It's a fun place, and it keeps people from going on the street with their bikes and getting in trouble."

Scott Pierce, a Washington Township man who has brought his 7-year-old son, Corbin, to the skatepark twice a week for a year, said he was disappointed, too.

"They have a good business here," he said. "Just because the movie wants more space, they're giving the skatepark the boot?"

The 30,000-square-foot facility, which opened six years ago in a former Vans store, will close down its ramps March 25; its retail section will shut March 31. Black Diamond's owner has had discussions about relocating to Voorhees Town Center, about 10 miles away, or Plymouth Meeting Mall in Montgomery County, three times as far away - a haul for parents of Black Diamond's many non-driver patrons.

After voters in historically dry Moorestown approved the sale of alcohol at the mall, the retail center's owners announced plans to open four new restaurants and bring in the Regal Entertainment Cineplex.

Dan McCollister, who also owns Black Diamond skateparks at Franklin Mills and in Atlanta, said he understood why the mall exercised its option to terminate his lease two years early.

"I'm upset the store is closing, but I'm a business person myself," McCollister said.

"We're very excited about the opportunities to open elsewhere and are very hopeful we'll be reopened by the fall," he said.

The current location attracts about 100 patrons - mostly teenagers - a day, he said. The cost ranges from $8 an hour to $20 per day.

The closing "is a bummer because it houses me in the winter," said Sean Mancini, 19, of Cinnaminson, an avid skateboarder who spends four to five hours a day at Black Diamond. "It's not fun to skateboard outside in the freezing weather."

Mancini, a student at Burlington County Institute of Technology, said he doesn't have much time to travel to Franklin Mills.

Joseph Coradino, CEO of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns Moorestown Mall, would like Black Diamond to sign a lease at Voorhees or Plymouth Meeting, which also are PREIT properties.

"We have a good relationship with the skatepark and are trying to keep it in the family," he said.

PREIT, which also owns Cherry Hill Mall, is closing Black Diamond to make way for the Regal cineplex. The theater will be located at the site of the current four-screen United Artists multiplex and the adjacent skatepark.

Coradino said the cineplex is expected to open early next year and will have "premium, very-high-end theaters."

Since November, when voters approved the sale of alcohol at the Moorestown Mall, Coradino said he had received inquiries from businesses that want to open there. The township is setting up procedures for an auction of liquor licenses.

The approval of the referendum, which applied exclusively to the mall, overturned the township's nearly 100-year ban on alcohol sales. PREIT had lobbied for the change, saying it would help invigorate the struggling property, which has many vacancies.

"We are really pleasantly surprised at the level of interest from restaurants" based in New York and New Jersey, Coradino said. "The moment the referendum passed, the level of restaurant interest ramped up dramatically."

Acclaimed Philadelphia chef Mark Vetri has agreed to open a restaurant at the mall, and other announcements are expected in the next three months, Coradino said.

According to marketing research, he said, patrons who come to dine or go to a movie will likely also shop at the mall. Pierce and his son, who travel a half-hour to Moorestown, are proof of that spillover effect.

"We used to come here to shop," Pierce said, explaining how Corbin was captivated by the action at the skatepark and wanted to join in.

"You can do tricks here," Corbin said gleefully.

Pierce said that when the facility closes, he will have to take Corbin, who handily rides a skateboard, a bike and a scooter, to Franklin Mills.

"It'll take an hour to get there," he said. "It's a shame."


Contact staff writer Jan Hefler

at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or @JanHefler on Twitter. Read her blog at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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