Township resident Dave Welsh says he’s looking to create a focal point for the center of the township with an indoor-outdoor space that’s heavy on local talent and urbanist design principles.
By Matt Skoufalos | January 2, 2020
Last February, Haddon Township native Dave Welsh announced his plans for Reunion Hall, a modern beer garden that will occupy the former Napa Auto Parts building on Haddon Avenue.
Tonight, Welsh takes his proposal for the 10,000 square-foot, indoor/outdoor taproom to the township planning board for approval.
If people understand nothing else about the idea, Welsh wants them to know he’s all-in.
With dedicated outdoor space for lawn games and lounging, and a miniature food court onsite, he intends Reunion Hall to be “the welcome center for Haddon Township.”
“As much as it’s my building, I want it to be the town’s centerpiece,” Welsh said.
“I’ve always wanted to have something in my hometown,” he said. “I’m proud of where I’m from. I’m from Haddon Township, and I want to have this restaurant represent that.”
Anchoring its theme of reunion, the hall is designed to be a casual gathering place for meet-ups and homecomings as much as a destination to attract out-of-towners. The space will be fully ADA-compliant and accessible to those arriving by car, on foot, by bike, or via the nearby Westmont PATCO Speedline station. And Welsh hopes to draw guests from throughout the area by creating a unique experience.
“One of the goals is to give people something more than a plain restaurant,” he said.
“As much as I want to bring people from Haddon Township, I want to bring people from Philly. The PATCO goes both ways; people can come east to hang out.”
The million-dollar project will blend modern and classic materials to create a contemporary design. Framed in aluminum, brick, and steel, its Haddon Avenue frontage will feature a trio of glass-windowed garage doors terminating in a brick half-wall. The main entrance to the building faces Glenwood Avenue; along that wall, Reunion Hall will add a wheelchair ramp for accessibility.
On the opposite building face, which adjoins Maxwell’s Driving School and the law offices of McCabe Weisberg Conway, a shiplap-and-steel privacy fence frames the outdoor space. Beyond that fence will be a three-tiered patio featuring a game area, fire pit and lounge, and dining tables, with stairs and paver ramps bridging each level.
The outdoor area comprises seating for some 70 guests, including along a bar that straddles the interior and exterior of the building.
“You have dinner, and then you want to go sit outside and relax,” Welsh said. “If you want to play some games, there’s another level for that.”
Inside, there’s seating for 125 patrons across a variety of communal and café tables, and a bar rail that runs almost the length of the building. Reunion Hall will be built to serve as many as 50 to 70 different beers on draft, with a strong emphasis on New Jersey craft beverages.
In the rear of the hall, Welsh plans an ordering station for three different food businesses, all local to South Jersey.
“We’re going to try to cover all dynamics of food everybody likes,” he said. “One will be vegan/vegetarian-based, one barbecue and Mexican, one late-night tapas with pizza and sandwiches.”
Beneath the dining hall, a 5,000-square-foot second level will house the kitchens for each eatery, as well as cold storage for the bar.
Welsh wants to program the space with special events that have a community focus. The restaurateur, who also owns and operates RunningCo of Haddonfield, Medford, Moorestown, and Mullica Hill, and The Mile in Runnemede, wants Reunion Hall to become a place to host fundraisers for community groups.
Welsh stressed that Reunion Hall “isn’t an adult-only place,” and wants families to enjoy live music, special events, and recreation there. He’s even floated the idea of hosting the weekly Westmont Farmers Market there, rent-free for vendors.
“I’ll let everybody come up and put it on the property,” Welsh said. “I’ve got bathrooms there. People will be able to get food and eat it because I’ve got seats.
“I want the town to use this as your indoor-outdoor garden,” he said.
Welsh said he’s also working with the immediate neighborhood to address their concerns about the impact of the project. Those conversations resulted in plans for the building footprint being reduced by five feet on the side adjacent to McCabe Weisberg Conway, which also shrunk the total patron capacity of the project to less than 200.
Stormwater management plans for Reunion Hall should be an improvement over existing conditions, Welsh said, with a collection system that will tie in its roof and property drainage into the municipal system. The previous owners had routed a sump pump into the street, which Welsh said will be undone in the fit-out.
“The whole property will be brought up to code,” he said.
According to an engineering study by Dynamic Traffic of Lake Como, Reunion Hall should have adequate parking for patrons, with 35 spots in a lot directly behind the property and street parking in the surrounding area.
Welsh said he’s hopeful that customers also will make use of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, the nearby PATCO Speedline, or by simply walking up to Haddon Avenue from the neighborhoods nearby. Reunion Hall will also have a pair of bike racks to accommodate cyclists.
In keeping with his local roots, Welsh has also committed to hiring as many local professional services as he can in the project.
Haddon Township residents who have signed on include: architect Jay Reinert, contractor Rich Cushman, electrician Anthony Domanico, roofer Rob Miller, plumber Mike Neel, and furniture-maker
“I’m going to try to employ as many Haddon Township residents as I can, and I’m a resident of the town where I’m building this restaurant,” Welsh said. “I’ve lived here all but 10 years of my life. I’m not going to be an absentee owner.”
Welsh’s application will be taken up by the Haddon Township Planning Board tonight at 7:30 p.m.