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UPDATE: With Disclaimer, State Says Restricting Alcohol to Mall OK

PREIT claims it will try to answer residents' remaining questions ahead of Election Day.

While it's not unequivocated, the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has given qualified approval to the township's ability to restrict the sale of alcohol to full-service restaurants at an indoor shopping mall.

Before township council —the first to approve the sale of alcohol in town, the second to impose the aforementioned restriction—several residents raised concerns about the township's legal right to impose the restriction. If voters pass Question 1, they wondered, but the ABC deems Question 2 invalid, could there be alcohol anywhere in town?

Township attorney Thomas Coleman said he believed the restriction was enforceable, mentioning similar regulations in Willingboro, which limits liquor licenses to 250-seat restaurants, and Audubon.

But neither he nor council had solid answers because they hadn't checked the legality of Question 2 because they didn't introduce the referendums. Mall owner Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), in partnership with grassroots citizens group "Property Tax Relief for Moorestown," which distributed petitions to get the necessary signatures, was responsible for the ballot questions.

In a letter from ABC director Jerry Fischer to PREIT attorney Anthony Drollas earlier this month, Fischer states he reviewed an ordinance submitted by Drollas to restrict alcohol sales to the mall. He writes, "Ordinances which conflict with the state regulatory scheme or are preempted by state law are not approved," but does not say the ordinance submitted by Drollas does either.

Fischer goes on to say his approval "is not a determination on the merits of any specific case … nor does it preclude an appeal by an aggrieved party related to a specific application of the ordinance."

Those caveats in place, Fischer writes that he approves the ordinance.

Long story short: ABC says restricting the sale of alcohol to the Moorestown Mall is OK, but it doesn't mean someone couldn’t come along and challenge it.

 

A transparent campaign
The restriction question was only one of several raised at Monday's meeting by residents, who asked the township to host a special public meeting to provide answers to those .

Council was wishy-washy on those requests, again asserting the referendum issue was not of their making.

However, Seth Broder, unofficial spokesman for the citizens group, said he would be discussing with PREIT the possibility of holding public information sessions.

PREIT president Joe Coradino said "absolutely" when asked whether the company had plans to hold public meetings.

"We will be on a very transparent educational and community campaign," he said. "We recognize there are a great deal of questions."

He clarified that he saw the education/community campaign taking the form of a "series of smaller public meetings, rather than 300 people in a room."

Coradino said he and other supporters had a private meeting scheduled next week to plan out their information campaign strategy, which they intend to roll out after Labor Day.

 

'That’s the practical way to do it'
Another question that has persisted is whether PREIT could purchase one license to cover multiple restaurants at the mall. If that were the case, the township would bring in a lot less money from selling the licenses than if they were able to sell all six they're allotted (one for every 3,000 people in a town of roughly 20,000).

Zachariah Hosseini, a spokesman for ABC, put that rumor to rest by explaining that the owner of the license must also be the operator of the business.

PREIT's just the landlord, he said. Each restaurant needs its own license—unless PREIT wants to run the restaurant.

"It's very uncommon for a landlord to do that," Hosseini said.

Coradino said there are four restaurants with liquor licenses at the Cherry Hill Mall, which PREIT also owns, with a fifth on its way.

He explained the company's strategy: "When we hear there's a license on the market, we usually buy it, put it on the shelf, and when we get the restaurant, we tell them, 'We'll sell it to you for what we got it for' ... When they leave, we buy it back for the same price."

Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille, Maggiano's Little Italy and Seasons 52 all possess separate liquor licenses at the Cherry Hill Mall. Coradino also pointed out Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille and Seasons 52, though all owned by the same company, each have separate licenses.

Hosseini explained multiple restaurants owned by the same entity within the same building still can't operate off one license unless the establishments are contiguous.

"We buy the license to preserve the opportunity to have fine dining with liquor at our mall," Coradino said. "That's the practical way to do it. What we're doing is appropriate and legal."

According to PREIT, the ability to sell alcohol at the Moorestown Mall would generate approximately $4 million in revenue, up front, for the township through the sale of the licenses and $500,000 every year thereafter.

However, it's difficult to determine how much the township would bring in from selling the licenses because there's no history to use as an indicator and, while a license at Cherry Hill went for $1.6 million in 2006, there would be no other competition (assuming Question 2 passes) for licenses in Moorestown to ignite a bidding war.

Regardless, council's vote Monday directed the county clerk to place the questions on the Nov. 8 ballot and Mayor John Button wouldn't have it any other way.

"I am perfectly fine with putting it to the voters," he said. "Let's let the voters decide."

UPDATE: Letter from state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to PREIT attorney attached. 

What's the Downside September 02, 2011 at 01:19 PM
How hard did you look? The license for Dooneys in Delran just sold for $725,000. And that's in delran in a strip center.
Non resident September 02, 2011 at 01:55 PM
The strip center is Delran is much like the ones that surround your mall and is newer and nicer than one or two in Moorestown. The digs at surrounding towns in the comments for articles on this issue and in letters to the editor, etc. on this site suggest an elitism/arrogance that is unbecoming and actually detracts from the special place many claim Moorestown is. The reason I am following this issue is for the benefit of the region, I'd like to see the mall succeed, with or without liquor, and I admire people expressing their opinions and getting involved. That is something you in Moorestown should be proud of, but don't take the low road by taking shots at surrounding towns where you also shop, dine, etc. The mall can't survive on Moorestown residents alone; the region must support it. I hope all sides get their say and the town makes a decision in its best interest, which in turn will be in the best interest of the region.
M.Verado September 02, 2011 at 04:12 PM
In the cheap seats, I believe the annual renewals of $500,000. are unrealistic, and could possibly be challanged in court. Again, the twp sets the starting bid price, and 800 k to 1 mill. is not out of line with high-end restaurants.I had heardPREIT has stated they will conduct Q & A meetings with various groups. I don't know if that will include Q & A with the general public.It would not be in their best interests to do so if it turns into a shouting match. Another fact: PREIT regularly appeals their taxes due to vacancy rate and decreasing value. The addition of say four restaurants would add value and decrease the vacancy rate which, in turn, increases their ratable value. Major renovations and/or expansion would add further to their tax value. Their property taxes will most definitely increase. Next, who will bid on the licenses.
In the Cheap Seats September 09, 2011 at 12:29 PM
MV - Cherry Hill received and added assessment tax bill for improvements made recently. They appealed it and won. Are we to believe PREIT would not challenge their assessment here when they have a long history of doing so? Liquor licenses didn't help Plymouth Meeting's vacancy factor. It is roughly the same as Moorestown. If PREIT wants to be able to make claims of income the town would receive they should be prepared to face some hard questions. I would hope that the PREIT reps would not shout too much.
In the Cheap Seats September 09, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Downside, you sense incorrectly if you think I wish the mall to fail. But it is up to the management to do what they can to see that that doesn't happen. Just as I have to balance my checkbook, they need to balance theirs, and stop appealing their tax bill or asking for special treatment. They are not the only taxpayer in town. Do you propose that we make special deals with all taxpayers or just those corporations that have friends who sit on EDAC and town council?

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