Within the next few weeks, the owners of the Moorestown Mall will be able to make a big announcement revealing which restaurants they plan on bringing in should the referendums on liquor licenses pass in November.
Speaking before members of the Moorestown Business Association (MBA) Wednesday morning, Joe Coradino, president of mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), said the company would soon make a “very exciting announcement” regarding the restaurants it’s recruiting.
“You’re going to be, ‘Wow,’” he said.
Coradino was remarking on speculation that PREIT, contrary to its claims of seeking “fine dining” restaurants, would only attract casual dining establishments, like Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s.
“We envision it being at a higher level than Cherry Hill (Mall) in terms of the dining,” he said. “We envision it being something you would all say, ‘Wow, that’s what you’re doing at Moorestown Mall?’ It’s not about Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s or some other restaurant that I wouldn’t eat at.”
Coradino made his case for why restaurants, and specifically those that serve alcohol, are needed at the mall:
- Sales per square foot at Cherry Hill Mall vs. Moorestown Mall, roughly equal in 2008, are now about $560 and $370, respectively. Coradino said improvements at Cherry Hill, including the addition of several new restaurants, are directly responsible for the uptick in sales.
- A number of high-end department stores—H&M, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales—require the presence of restaurants in a mall before they’ll agree to locate there, Coradino said. Following the opening of the Nordstrom at Cherry Hill Mall, he said sales per square foot rose $420 to $564, a 33 percent jump.
- He quoted information provided by ESRI, a data consultant, showing Moorestown residents spend $22 million a year at restaurants. Of that, $9 million is spent in Moorestown, the other $13 million is spent at establishments outside the township, Coradino said.
If that consumer spending was kept in Moorestown, he said, it would mean a higher assessed valuation on the mall property, which would in turn translate to higher property taxes and more revenue for the town, school and county—about $500,000-600,000 more on top of the $3.5 million PREIT pays now ().
PREIT has appealed its $110 million assessment the last three years. The appeal is still pending, but Coradino said, “I can tell you Moorestown (Mall) is overassessed. We’re paying too much. We think it’s probably (worth) $80 million.”
He also responded to skepticism about the validity of PREIT’s claim of a 20 to 30 percent vacancy rate at the Moorestown Mall.
A report PREIT filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shows the Moorestown Mall having a total occupancy rate of 91.2 percent—only an 8.8 percent vacancy rate.
However, the second column in the report indicates an 80.2 percent rate of occupancy for non-anchor (i.e. non-department) stores, which is what Coradino said the mall’s performance is truly based on.
“We look at the space between the anchors,” he said.
He also noted the Lane Furniture store, while vacant, is still paying rent, so PREIT counts it as “occupied” for the purposes of the SEC report.
No Plan B
Coradino fielded questions from the somewhat-larger-than-normal crowd at the MBA meeting, including Steven Pazienza, owner of the Mosquito Squad in Mount Laurel, who said he strongly supported PREIT’s plan, but wondered whether opening restaurants at the mall would suck some of the life out of the downtown.
“In the center of Haddonfield, the center of Collingswood … I think the businesses are hurting. I think the vacancies are really bad,” Pazienza said. “I see how these towns are being impacted (by the Cherry Hill Mall).”
Coradino had a different opinion though, suggesting, “There’s enough business for all of us. This is about how we can all succeed … What we do, I think, will drive the quality of restaurants up in downtown Moorestown.”
Another member asked what PREIT’s plan would be if the referendums failed, and Coradino’s answer was simple: “We don’t have a Plan B.”
He said they would probably move forward with plans to upgrade its theater. Tying the movie and restaurant concepts together, Coradino pointed to statistics from Screenvision, a theater advertising company, that 42 percent of moviegoers go out to eat before or after watching a movie and, according to trade publication Shopping Centers Today, 70 percent of diners shop during the same trip.
Asked what the timeline would be on opening restaurants should the referendums pass, Coradino snapped his fingers.
“We’re negotiating with restaurants right now,” he said.
PREIT estimates the addition of restaurants will create 150 temporary construction jobs and 200 hospitality jobs.
MBA president Mark Morgan said PREIT approached him to see if Coradino could speak at the membership meeting. Morgan took some heat for his decision from members of the community critical of PREIT for not holding a truly public forum, but Morgan didn’t understand the backlash.
“It would be a disservice to our members (not to let Coradino speak),” he said. “He talked about it being a business plan. Who better to talk to than the business association? Why wouldn’t we listen?”