A federal judge set the stage for the transformation of the decaying Westmont Theater this week by lifting an injunction against local officials who want to develop the property.

In an opinion issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas decided that Haddon Township authorities may move forward with redevelopment plans for the theater, which he called "the physical and emotional 'heart' of the township."

The grand marquee along Haddon Avenue has long been in decay, with development plans on hold after a 2004 contract between the previous developer, Westmont Development Group, and the township soured.

Westmont Development's plan included restoring the historic facade, converting the building into a 2,000-seat venue for shows, and providing space for shops and a restaurant.

The plan failed to move forward for a number of reasons, including lack of parking. Township officials claimed Westmont Development failed to meet deadlines and violated the terms of the agreement. Westmont Development obtained the injunction to stop the township from moving forward with any other developers.

On Monday, Irenas lifted the restraint.

Attorney William M. Tambussi, who represented the township, said he was pleased with the judge's order. Officials from Westmont Development could not be reached for comment yesterday.