The township is offering non-exclusive rights to host up to 50 events with alcohol service on the empty lot this summer. Local businesses Keg & Kitchen and PJW Restaurant Group bid on the job.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 16, 2017
When it was acquired by the local government during the Westmont Theater redevelopment project, the vacant lot at Haddon and East Albertson Avenues in Haddon Township could have become a parking lot.
But with a bit of sprucing up and some public-private investment, it could be the key to activating the downtown business district this summer.
The lot at 50 and 51-and-a-half Haddon Avenue has already hosted a CD release party for Oaklyn’s Community Rocks, and will provide the backdrop to the upcoming Summer Solstice Festival June 21.
Last week, township commissioners solicited bids to transform it into a pop-up event space with alcohol service from June to October.
The request for proposals (RFP) offered non-exclusive rights to host as many as 50 “periodic, community-oriented, recreational events involving the sale of beer, wine, and/or alcohol” on the lot
Haddon Township Mayor Randy Teague said the five-month trial could demonstrate proof of concept for the lot, and that any revenue it generates could be put toward its longer-term renovation as a public space.
“We thought, ‘Let’s put out something relatively quickly, and see what kind of response we get,’” Teague said.
“We didn’t want it to be an exclusive use of the property [and]we wanted the successful bidder to have the ability to do things on a more regular basis.”
Teague said the lot could provide the Haddon Avenue commercial district with a walkable, outdoor public entertainment destination that no neighboring community has: bar service.
“It’s quite an opportunity that we have this open space right in the middle of our downtown,” he said. “That has a spillover effect for all the businesses.”
The township received two bids for the project, which are under a compliance review; the commissioners have a week to decide whether to accept one or restart the process.
The winning bidder will be responsible for grading and surfacing the lot. The township will provide electricity, water, and sewer access; its staging and public bathroom trailers would also be available.
“It has to be graded, it has to be safe, and it has to be usable to whatever event or operation would be there,” Teague said. “We’ll have the basics of utilities that would be needed to run a successful business.”
Keg & Kitchen owner Kevin Meeker bid on the job, but doesn’t think any one business ought to be given rights to the space.
He’d like to see it leased on an event-by-event basis.
“I just think it should be a community property, and utilized that way,” Meeker said.
“The whole pop-up beer garden thing is a great idea, but you don’t want to limit it to just that.”
Meeker is a believer in beer gardens, having installed one at Keg & Kitchen and another at Cooper House, which he opened in partnership with the Camden County government only last year. But he thinks the lot at Haddon and East Albertson could offer a variety of events, from hosting the Westmont Farmers Market to an outdoor movie.
PJW Restaurant Group, which operates P.J. Whelihan’s, The Pour House, and Treno Pizza Bar, all in Haddon Township, was the second bidder for the pop-up space. Spokespeople for the company declined to comment.
However the space is activated, lot 50-51-1/2 represents a distinct opportunity, said Kate Burns, who directs the Haddon Township Business Improvement District (BID).
“I think that if something can be done to make that more of an event space, it brings a lot of people to the avenue, which then filters through to the other businesses,” Burns said.
“It doesn’t hurt to try, and if someone would want to go in and improve it, I think it’s all good.”
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