UPDATE: PREIT president Joe Coradino admitted he was pretty surprised by the results of Tuesday's referendum vote.
It wasn't the outcome—he was expecting to win—but he didn't anticipate such a clear victory.
"The way I looked at this was, I was thinking we were going to win by a narrow margin," he told Patch Wednesday. "And that was sort of driven ... by the passion, and commitment, of the opposition."
Coradino's measured optimism was off however, with roughly 60 percent of voters favoring "Yes" on both referendums.
"It's—what do the politicians call it?—a mandate. I think we got a mandate last night," he said. "The residents banged the table and said, 'We want this,' didn't they?"
With the vote now in the rear-view, Coradino said PREIT will focus its efforts on fulfilling the promises it made during its campaign: bringing in high-end restaurants, improving the theater and mall, and, most importantly, .
"In the big pictures, this was a step," he said. "We plan on delivering on our message."
Though he was unable to provide a specific timeline, Coradino said PREIT anticipates having most or all of the four restaurants built and open within the next year. The theater expansion, he said, will likely come in early 2013.
During a tele-town hall last week, Coradino revealed PREIT had signed letters of interest with two more restaurants (in addition to ) and is close to reaching an agreement with a second celebrity chef. This last restaurant would be on the same level as the Vetri restaurant, he said.
Coradino declined to name those restaurants, saying he wants to have all three locked in before he makes an announcement, so they can "make a big splash."
"I want to thank the residents of Moorestown for their support," Coradino said.
By a margin of about 60 to 40 percent, Moorestown voters chose to lift the township’s century-long embargo on alcohol sales.
Nearly 50 percent of registered Moorestown voters—a high number for an off-year election, according to poll workers—turned out to pass the referendums.
Though the results are still unofficial, the final tally was 4,138 “Yes,” 2,750 “No” on Question 1, and 3,750 “Yes,” 2,876 “No” on Question 2. The results won’t become official until the absentee ballots are counted and the votes are certified, something that normally takes several days.
By approving Question 1, voters elected to open the township—dry since the early part of the 20th century—to liquor licenses. And by approving Question 2, they voted to limit the use of those licenses to restaurants at the PREIT-owned Moorestown Mall.
“Obviously, this is a big night for the people of Moorestown,” said Seth Broder, a member of the pro-referendum group Property Tax Relief for Moorestown (PTRM). “Our goal from day one was to run an honest and transparent campaign that would dispel any rumors about the process … I believe we’ve accomplished that.”
A similar referendum was rejected by a nearly 2-1 margin in 2007. That referendum placed no restriction on the use of liquor licenses.
This year’s vote likely passed because of the inclusion of an educational component that was sorely lacking from the 2007 referendum, said Jacob DerHagopian, chair of the township’s economic development advisory committee (and also an advocate with PTRM).
Referendum opponents had waged a campaign of their own in hopes of seeing the questions fail and were surprised Tuesday not just that “Yes” won, but how large the margin of victory was.
“I thought if they were going to pass, it would be closer,” said resident Bill Cox. “And I’m surprised number two passed. I thought that one didn’t have a lot of support.”
He said the vote almost “flip-flops the results from four years ago. It was a very dramatic turnaround.”
Poll workers said the turnout was higher than usual, and though they couldn’t be certain, suspected the referendums had a lot to do with that.
“I don’t think it’s who they’re voting for,” said Carol Juliano, who was manning the table at District 17.
Beth Schroeder, a poll worker at District 19, said before 5 p.m. hit—the after-work rush—they had seen more than 30 percent of the district’s registered voters.
“You wouldn’t be near that number without the issues,” said fellow poll worker Thomas Horner.
Cox, a commercial litigation attorney, had to have the referendums stricken from the ballot. A Superior Court judge and an appeals judge ruled against him, leading Cox to take the case to the state Supreme Court.
However, following Tuesday’s vote, he said he plans to “give it some thought about whether to proceed with (the lawsuit) … I’m not going to decide tonight.”
PREIT president Joe Coradino could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
DerHagopian said the passage of the referendums represents “a major step forward in the economic sustainability of our town … Moorestown is really positioned as one of the most exciting stories in the entire Delaware Valley area.”
Follow Moorestown Patch throughout the week for continuing coverage of the referendum vote.