PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) continues to clear hurdles as it moves forward with plans to breathe new life into the Moorestown Mall.
Thursday night, it was a parking variance it needed to . And though it wasn’t as imposing an obstacle as , the planning board wasn’t ready to just rubber-stamp PREIT’s plans.
The number of parking spaces needed for a movie theater is based on the number of seats in the theater—one spot for every four seats, according to PREIT’s site engineer David Fleming. With the size of the theater set to increase from 1,742 seats to 2,457 seats (seven screens to 12 screens), PREIT would need 615 parking spots.
There are 913 spots in the lot immediately in front of the theater—from the section in front of Lord & Taylor down to the Boscov’s garden center—Fleming said, but because those spots are also used by shoppers and food court patrons, not just theatergoers, PREIT needed the variance.
Members of the planning board, though fully in support of a mall renaissance, were concerned the expansion/improvement of the theater—not to mention the later addition of alcohol-serving restaurants—would create traffic headaches and, more importantly, safety issues for mall patrons who may have to park farther away from the theater on a busy night.
Sgt. Randy Pugh, who heads the ’s traffic division, was blunt in his assessment of the issues at the mall.
“The problem we have is right here; this is where the people are going to come to use the mall,” Pugh said, gesturing to a diagram of the lot in front of the theater. “This area is currently stressed out. There’s no more room there … It’s like a wagon train. People will not walk a considerable distance to get to their cars, so they’ll circle and they’ll circle and they’ll circle till they get a parking space.”
He added, “They want to be right in this area when they come out for safety reasons.”
While the mall currently meets the required number of parking spaces, and would even after the expansion, township manager Scott Carew brought up an obvious fact: If PREIT successfully rejuvenates the mall, there’s going to be much more of a premium on parking spaces.
“The reality is, the theater now is not very successful,” he said. “Let’s be honest, you’re looking for a lot more traffic … You’re not going to spend all this money without the anticipation that it’s going to attract a lot more people.”
Both sides acknowledged the improvements to the mall, specifically the theater, would create inconveniences for customers—”It’s going to get spread out. People are going to have to get used to walking,” said Carew—but that ultimately the pros associated with that outweighed the cons.
PREIT representatives agreed to maintain a dialogue with the police on safety issues. Mall general manager Brian Gardiner said they already pay the department to have an officer patrol the mall at designated times.
“When we see a need … we work actively to address it,” he said.
The planning board approved the variance request by a vote of 8-1, with Greg Newcomer providing the lone “no.” Newcomer opposed the variance because he didn’t believe PREIT had provided adequate information about the impact the theater expansion would have on traffic in and around the mall.
He said the planning board is the “last stop” for the safety of the public in matters such as this.
Board member Douglas Joyce, however, felt public safety was in the interest of both sides.
“They (PREIT) have every incentive in the world to address our concerns,” he said.