Local Businessman: What's Being Done to Help Downtown Moorestown?

Main Street will be a priority in 2012, according to members of council, with the possible addition of a downtown manager and new and better parking.

Main Street Moorestown is hurting, and according to at least one businessman, the town’s not doing enough to support it.

Property owner/developer Joe Ventresca owns 11 properties on Main Street and two of those are vacant, he said, not counting the , which will be replaced by a frozen yogurt shop in April—the fourth tenant at the property in the last four years.

Several other businesses in the downtown are struggling too, according to Ventresca—owner of JVS Properties—and he believes part of the reason is there’s not enough of a support system in Moorestown for the downtown business community.

“If you want to keep a downtown Main Street, you’ve got to want to keep it,” he said. “The importance is not placed on downtown.”

Though he was somewhat diplomatic in his comments—“I’m not dumping on council. I love those guys. They’re working their asses off”—Ventresca made it clear he doesn’t think the town as a whole is doing as much as it needs to to help the downtown.

He mentioned specifically the need for a full-time downtown manager—an idea that’s been discussed for years and for which the township Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) has requested $50,000 in its 2012 budget.

Moorestown needs a person who wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night with the goal of helping downtown, Ventresca said. “All these things need full-time attention and no one’s paying attention … They’re relying on us (business owners) to do it individually, and that’s OK. But there’s a lot of empty units and it looks like hell.”

‘We look at this as an investment’

EDAC chair Jake DerHagopian said the role of the downtown manager, or town coordinator, would be to work with businesses on marketing themselves, as well as marketing and managing the town as a whole.

He described the committee’s request as “seed money,” a start-up budget, with the goal of eventually funding the position at least partially by having businesses pay a fee.

Another possibility is the township could chip in some money to cover the salary, said Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo, liaison to EDAC.

“There’s never a good time for budget requests, but I think we need to reinvest (in the downtown),” said DerHagopian. “We don’t look at this as an expense item. We look at this as an investment.”

owner Robert Minniti was undecided on the value of a downtown manager, saying it would ultimately depend on what the person actually does.

“It couldn’t hurt,” he added.

Phoebe Dennis, owner of on Main Street, said the idea of a downtown manager has been batted around for years. And she, like Minniti, was unsure whether it would help.

“I don’t know if there’s enough to manage,” she said.

La-Di-Da manager Bonnie Strainic said, “Personally, I think it’s a good idea.”

Both Dennis and Minniti placed a higher priority on parking. Dennis said would-be shoppers roll right through Main Street if they can’t find parking on Main since the other parking options (the municipal lot behind , side streets) aren’t clearly marked.

Minniti said he doesn’t rely as much on foot traffic, so the parking issues don’t worry him.

“If I relied on foot traffic, I absolutely would be concerned,” he said. “If I needed foot traffic, I’d be in a strip center.”

EDAC recently submitted a to town council, with designs drawn up by Taylor Design Group, said Gallo. The plan, among other things, calls for new signage and restructuring of the various lots between Chester Avenue and Mill Street and the municipal lot along Second Street.

Of course, the township doesn’t own a lot of this property, so the merchants and property owners have to be brought on board for any kind of alternations, Gallo said. And then there’s the inevitable dollars-and-cents discussion.

“It’s not going to be cheap. So even if everybody wants it, we still need to have the conversation about how do we pay for it,” he said.

‘We don’t have the formula in place’

Gallo and Mayor John Button conceded Main Street has slipped down council’s priority list of late, with municipal complex, open space/recreation and other issues taking precedence.

“Some of the oxygen has been taken up by other activities, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been ongoing,” said Gallo, referring to the parking plan and various other behind-the-scenes machinations by EDAC, including picking the brain of the business improvement district coordinator for King of Prussia, who happens to be a Moorestown resident.

Button said downtown is definitely a priority for council and supported, in spirit anyway, the concept of a downtown manager. But, he added, “The timing hasn’t been right to have a full-time downtown manager, from a budget perspective … It’ll boil down to a matter of priorities.”

Though they took a more glass-half-full approach, Gallo and Button also acknowledged downtown Moorestown’s flaws.

“We’ve got some good restaurants, some good merchants … but we do not have the formula in place to have Main Street be all it can be,” said the mayor. “We need more vibrance down there.”

Ventresca mentioned various other strategies the township could employ to improve downtown: better Christmas decorations, the implementation of a council’s discussed lately. Now’s the time for them, because once the mall starts to add restaurants, new retail and the , Main Street’s struggles will become even more pronounced, he said.

“I pushed for (the referendums). I understood we needed to help (the mall) so they don’t go under,” said Ventresca. “We helped them. Now what are we doing downtown?”

Townie January 04, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Do you wonder the same thing for Haddonfield or Collingswood? Why isn't Westmont THE place to go since they have booze? Maybe Maple Shade is what we should aspire to be? I personally feel a good BYOB restaurants is more attractive than restaurants that serve. It's amazing that anyone ever moved to town or that it miraculously survived without selling alcohol for that past few hundred years? I appreciate Pandora's box has been opened, but there isn't any real opportunity or cost in that discussion if you don't own a building or want to open a pub. This entire discussion is a matter of priorities. Any town that can waste as much money as it does "planning" for a municipal building and consider "turf fields as a must have to remain competitive in the real estate crunch" can find money to support Main Street if it wants. The biggest problem (IMO) is that the "planners" and "leaders" can't see past their own small pond and either can't or won't make decisions. This isn't about making Moorestown residents stay in town for dinner and running shoes, it's about getting people in Mount Laurel, and Riverton, and Hainesport to think about heading to town for dinner...and walking around for 10 or 20 minutes afterward. We've got the only town in America where you have to go to Starbucks before dinner if you want coffee?
utr January 04, 2012 at 12:42 AM
I'm pretty sure the zoning board has no control over how an area is zoned. I believe zoning is determined in the master plan
utr January 04, 2012 at 12:50 AM
I doubt 50k would help change Main Street's slow death. How about bartering a liquor license with PREIT, they get a license in exchange for their expertise in retailing and design to make Main Street a viable destination. Maybe throw in a shuttle bus from the mall for side excursions to our town's boutiques. If anything it would ease the parking issue.
Bumpers January 04, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Oh I've been hearing parking is not a primary problem rather secondary. And the bloggers are saying other places such as haddonfiled, collingswood, and chestnut hill don't have much parking and are doing well. But see we have a mall they don't . Does preit give a darn About main street,? Btw- you can hop the freeholders transit from the mall to main st if you really want a transfer. More important issues are town hall complex, open space , and booze
Harvey Wallbanger January 04, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Let's change it then! Bottoms up!
Harvey Wallbanger January 04, 2012 at 01:26 AM
An idea that makes sense
Harvey Wallbanger January 04, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Why do we compare ourselves to other towns? Who cares. Fact - our retail areas are atrocious (anyone seen the 2 empty ACMEs, Sears or Kmart) and vacant and something needs to be done but you think building a new town hall is more important. What planet do you live on? Who's going to pay for it if all of our commercial taxpayers are bankrupt? Fix the mall. Fix main street. Then maybe worry about the non essential stuff.
Harvey Wallbanger January 04, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Whatever has been done up to now isn't working so why not. The BYOBS can come now so where are they? What's the missing ingredient? CHANGE is necessary or we die or in this case, we may already be dead.
Francis January 04, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Who cares about Main Street. These problems are the problems of a few retail owners. As businesses they need to get their act together and stop asking for a free handout. Get to work MBA.
Francis January 04, 2012 at 02:45 AM
The problem with Main Street is passe. Our Town Republican Town CouncilLeadership is passe. No wonder we have problems. Main Street died when Centerton, East Gate, Moorestown Mall and Cherry Hill Mall were given their property deeds. Spending money on Main Street is like writing a script for Viagra for a 100 year old man. It is too late.
RANDYGTS January 04, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Margie: I'm pretty sure Council passed the ordinance to do that a few years ago. However, it would only apply to new businesses that come in, not existing businesses (of course). For example, you see how La Rosa Chicken replaced Infinity Title when it moved off of Main Street? People need to realize that just ten years ago there was one full service restaurant on Main between Church and Chester (Cafe La Bella) and now there are four (five if you count Akira and Zheng's Garden as two.)
HappyNewYear January 04, 2012 at 01:16 PM
so let me get this right; an owner of multiple properties in town, who also volunteers significant hours and money to the town should be villified for having an opinion based on his business expertise? oh, he pays lots of taxes on all of those properties as well...somehow his opinion isnt relevant? I think he's the same guy who bought the hideous Oaks apartments and is rehabbing that dump- seems like he's not asking for corporate welfare but reflecting on what he has seen work in other towns... many who have made the same investment suggested in the article...once again, the bloggers of Moorestown think they are smarter than everyone else.
KD January 04, 2012 at 03:45 PM
$50,000 would go a long way in renovating the rear of all JVS properties with new asphalt and converting them to pubic parking. Give and get back. If new business will come to town if the infrastructure and township regulations are favorable for small business than improve the infrastructure and reduce the ordinances that restrict start up and or small business. One salaried Main St business cheerleader will not be able to convince any type of business that potential patrons will easily be able to get to that business' establishment in a town that is gridlocked by "private parking only" signs and "coin" meters in a world where few travel with coins. Nor will they bother in a town where they are told sorry you cannot open that business because ordinance or "zoning" says you dont have enough parking spots to support all the good business your establishment will bring in to our gridlocked Main St. Infrastructure making it easy to get to and in and out of "good" Main St. businesses is the key to start the engine. Then, the existing business owners will be excited enough to do all the work for free that a $50,000 salaried cheerleader would ever do. Any paid cheerleader will run into all the problems any interested prospective business owner would. . . No place to park and no support. Neither has very little to do with what party is in office or whether or not there is a Main St. establishment selling liquid out of a tap.
utr January 04, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Are you saying the town should improve a private property? Or does the town take over the property using eminent domain and improve it for the benefit of the town?
Francis January 04, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Main Street is dead. Close down the Moorestown Mall. Close down the Cherry Hill Mall. Close down the Centerton Mall. Close down East Gate. Close down the KMart Strip Mall. Close down BJ's. Close down Costco. And, then, maybe Jesus can bring back Main Street to life. Can our Town Council do this?
KD January 04, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I said "give and get back." Easements are given every day with rights to "use" a portion of a property (and therefore take care of that property). In turn JVS's assessment would be adjusted reducing the annual tax for that particular property. In theory, that savings would be passed along to the business owner in the form of JVS being able to collect less of a lease payment to cover its overhead giving the business owner more cash flow and therefore more of a chance of being successful. Township gains parking, Towsnhip gains business, busines owners gain profit, township loses minimal tax base from the reduced assesment on the commercial properties yes, however the long term gains for everyone would be win win all around. This would be step one of a several step process in returning Main St. to what it once was.
utr January 04, 2012 at 04:40 PM
I'm pretty sure property owners still have to pay taxes on land they own whether or not it has an easement. Who pays for the maintenance of the lots? What happens when WaWa says, "You repaved JVS property, our lot could use a little sprucing up, do it or we'll sue the town."? Sounds like a slippery slope. That said, I think that maybe the town offering a loan guarantee for the improvements would be okay.
KD January 04, 2012 at 04:51 PM
You are correct, property owners still have to pay taxes on land that they own whether or not it has an easement, however the assessed value would be adjusted as it would be less valuable with a large easement on it. That was my point. Wawa has not granted Moorestown an easement to use and take care of their parking lot. There are private parking easement and driveways all up and down Main St that function properly and have done so for years. Starbucks building owner grants an easement to Akira building owner for everyone and their brother to use that driveway between the properties on Starbucks building property, nothing slippery about it. Regardless if it is a properly written easement or a loan guarantee (which favors JVS too much IMO) it is a win win for everyone in step one of the process.
Terry January 04, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Interesting concept but who would insure the area of the easement for slip and falls for example?
Francine January 04, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I have a building I need fixed and repaved. Who do I call?
KD January 04, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Terry - township has a fairly large umbrella property I am sure that already includes casualty and liability on other easements that they have throughout the town it would just be an add-on as it is typical, but not necessarily standard, that the "user" of the easement bears any type of "loss" on the property . MFS and an attorney in town have an existing driveway easement drawn on the 66 E Main St. property that spells out just about every scenario that I could every imagine for whenever that property sells. It would be a good read if you share my interest in the concept.
Terry January 04, 2012 at 06:32 PM
I would primarily be interested in a scenario where the township has an easement somewhere else. How is that handled. Who maintains the property and who insures it. If there is a link to the Main St property info you mentioned, I would be interested in that too.
GOP bystander January 04, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Terry where? Mews? blason woods?
HomeBrew January 04, 2012 at 07:46 PM
In December 2010, the township contracted Taylor Design Group for $60,000 ($50,000 paid by DVRPC grant) to prepare a conceptual plan for parking behind Main Street between Chester and Mill streets. http://moorestown.patch.com/articles/main-street-parking-study-under-way Links to Taylor's conceptual plan: http://www.moorestown.nj.us/filestorage/207/209/213/2270/2839/Main_Street_Parking_Presentation.pdf http://www.moorestown.nj.us/filestorage/207/209/213/2270/2839/Maiin_Street_Shared_Parking_Study_Design_Development_Plan.pdf
Onion Ring January 05, 2012 at 01:59 AM
very interesting. Do you agree with the Economic Development Advisory Committee’s proposal and support the parking plan? How do you feel about hiring a Business Coordinator to actively seek out new businesses for town?
Francis January 05, 2012 at 04:02 AM
You guys have a good talk,, but your dog ain't hunting. Reality has passed you by 20 years ago. Any money spent attempting to make Main Street prettier, sexier, younger simply will not work. What you have with Moorestown Main Street today is all you are going to get. The glory days are over boys. The PREIT MALLS RULE.
Boozer official January 06, 2012 at 05:07 PM
In relation to booze, I think some are under The impression is from some that booze can come to main st. Could someone really mark properties whether jvc or not where booze can go because it's outside of 200 ft of a church or school? The only reason I see people trying to compare us with haddonfield, collingswood and chestnut hill is that do they not have strict paking regulations? People use the side streets there. Is that regulation to prevent parking on the side streets? IMO in stead of blanketing the entire area behind main st one big asphalt design, appearance wise that wouldnt look good. perhaps as someone else mentioned, do what was done at the street of shoppes by JVC , clean it up, with better marked driveways thru to second and well marked parking spots.
lisa heisler January 06, 2012 at 08:00 PM
after thinking about this and following the 70 or some odd comments.... this makes a lot of sense... why dont we use the cleared parking lot that used to be the municipal complex... as a "parking lot" for the shops on Main Street... rent from the "glut of corporate office space" and as Frank also said move forward with the library renovations... makes good sense. and doesnt blow the tax budget... stop spending what we dont have.
Elephant utr January 09, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Perhaps a modified plan may work rather than a grand "asphalt design" that was earlier stated? Maybe a little at a time like what I see next to larosa chickens parking arrangement which has added parking and a nicely designed driveway. Will they be connectig that to second street? Maybe other area near mill could enter/empty onto mill and second rather than a few onto main st? Some thoughts to ponder.
Denise Richardson March 15, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Totally agree..but downtown is also one sided. The charm needs to be on both sides of Main but that cannot happen with the Community Center, the bank, the auto shop, the school and the church taking over the other side and not in a charming way.


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