Assuming voters OK the sale of alcohol in Moorestown, the owners of the Moorestown Mall say they’re willing to buy four liquor licenses at $1 million apiece.
Joe Coradino, president of Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns the mall, explained the company’s plan in a release issued Thursday.
“We are hopeful that this announcement demonstrates our strong commitment to seeing Moorestown Mall succeed long-term and our seriousness about transforming the mall into an entertainment and dining destination that will enhance the already special quality of life in Moorestown,” he said.
Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Coradino further explained the announcement came in response to some of the questions about PREIT’s intentions and speculation that the company would try to lowball the township on the liquor licenses since there wouldn’t be any competition for them.
“We think it puts to rest the question of whether we’re willing to pay market value,” he said. “We’re above market value.”
The release stated PREIT’s $1 million offer represents “the largest amount paid for any liquor license in South Jersey in the last 12 months.”
The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) could not confirm that statement because they don't track the sale of individual liquor licenses.
In 2006, a restaurant paid $1.6 million for a license at Cherry Hill Mall, which PREIT also owns. But over the last several years, the market for liquor licenses has declined dramatically. According to a report in The Star-Ledger in Dec. 2009, rates were down 30 percent from 2007, and things haven’t gotten much better over the last few years.
Bill Cox, a Moorestown resident who has voiced opposition to ending the township’s dry status, said PREIT’s plan was curious.
“I would be interested in why they’re willing to pay so much when at an auction they could conceivably get licenses for much less,” he said.
When asked about the business sense in paying above market value, Coradino responded, “What message we’re really driving home … is it’s really important that Moorestown Mall get the ability to put restaurants with liquor licenses in there.”
In the release, Coradino also addressed persistent rumors that multiple restaurants could operate off a single license—, except in cases where establishments are contiguous.
“Each restaurant will be required to operate off of a separate license,” he said, “which means Moorestown taxpayers are guaranteed of receiving $4 million in revenue from the sale of the licenses alone.”
While there is nothing legally binding about a press release, Coradino also addressed the question of what would stop he or PREIT from backtracking on the $4 million pledge if/when it comes time to bid.
“The answer to that is I’m an officer and a public trustee of a company and I made a public quote,” he said. “My credibility is much more valuable than trying a bait and switch.”
Coradino had previously explained PREIT’s strategy of purchasing liquor licenses, selling them to restaurants for what PREIT paid, and then buying them back for the same price. PREIT’s pledge would seem to indicate—in the case of the Moorestown Mall—that it has buyers in the wings who would be willing to pay $1 million for a license.
Coradino said he was not ready to divulge that much yet, but indicated PREIT has had conversations with restaurants interested in locating at the Moorestown Mall.
Chris Russell, spokesman for Taxpayer Relief for Moorestown, the citizen arm of PREIT’s campaign, said it’s possible in the coming weeks PREIT would be able to make announcements about those restaurants.
Seth Broder, one of the members of the citizens group, said Coradino’s announcement Thursday was “very exciting … People want answers. This is it.”
Of course, this is all very premature. The matter won’t be settled until Nov. 8, when voters take to the polls to decide: 1) Should Moorestown allow the sale of alcohol? and 2) Should those sales be restricted to indoor shopping areas (i.e. the Moorestown Mall)?
PREIT , with the help of Broder and other supporters, to get those questions on the ballot by circulating petitions. The company has said the addition of alcohol-serving restaurants at the Moorestown Mall would help reinvigorate business.
If the majority of residents vote “yes” to both questions, it’s on township council—or a local ABC board created by town council—to issue and set the minimum price of a liquor license.
“It’s interesting,” Mayor John Button said of PREIT’s pledge, because “they don’t set the price.”
He said council has had absolutely no discussions about setting a price for licenses should the referendums pass.
PREIT will continue on its campaign to educate voters over the next several weeks, with Coradino making an appearance at the Moorestown Business Association’s membership meeting on Sept. 21 to discuss the issue.
“It’s a strategy on their part … to make their case to the voters,” said Cox, whose opinion wasn’t swayed by Coradino’s announcement. “My impression is people will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on a whole variety of factors.”
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