Press and Journal

Switch to desktop Register Login

Theater group wants to lease Elks Building

A theater group based in the midstate wants to lease the Elks Building in Middletown and turn it into a regional performing arts center.


Phantom Theatre Company sent a letter of intent seeking to enter into negotiations with the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, which acquired the Elks Building from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. on Sept. 18.


The authority voted on Sept. 30 to approve the letter of intent, clearing the way for  discussions with the theater company. The letter of intent is nonbinding, obligating the authority and Phantom Theatre to do nothing more than hold talks in good faith, said authority Chairman Matt Tunnell.


However, Tunnell said the prospect of a performing arts center being located in the Elks is something exciting to ponder.


“I think there is some real eagerness to explore it and see where it goes,” Tunnell said. “We are thrilled.”


According to its Web site, Phantom is “a nonprofit theatre organization which strives to engage and entertain the community with professional theatre production standards in the central Pennsylvania area.”


Phantom Theatre’s most recent production, “Bare – A Pop Opera,” was staged at Gullifty’s Restaurant and Underground in Camp Hill, according to its Web site.


In its letter of intent to the authority, Phantom Theatre Company says that the community performing arts center proposed for the Elks Building “will include but not be limited to live performances such as dramatic theatre; musical theatre; dance; concerts; and other performances pursuant to the mission of Phantom Theatre Company.”


“PTC intends to honor the historic use of the Elks Theatre facility by continuing to use it at times as a movie theatre,’’ the letter said. “We are a community-oriented organization and look forward to nurturing growth of the arts in Middletown and the surrounding area with the potential for other community organizations to perform and use this space. We envision educational and other programs oriented to youth and families.”


The letter of intent is signed by Wendi Dobson, co-founder of Phantom Theatre Company and president of the PTC board. She did not return several phone calls from the Press And Journal seeking comment.


According to a story that ran in PennLive in January, Phantom Theatre Company was planning to turn the former River Rescue building on South Cameron Street in Harrisburg into a performing arts center.


Dobson’s husband, Philip Dobson, who is a real estate developer in Harrisburg, said that the River Rescue plan fell through when the city changed the zoning covering the property.


Phil Dobson said that the new designation would not allow for “soft uses” such as theater or retail. Under the city’s new rules, a performing arts center is not even allowed in the building under special exception.


That led Phantom Theatre to begin looking elsewhere for a place to carry out its vision. That search has led to the Elks.


“It’s such a beautiful theater, such a beautiful building, and a 100-year-old building,” said Phil Dobson. “I love historic buildings and I think the Elks Building really has a lot of character.”


He has experience in bringing new life to historic properties. He said he is just the third owner in the history of the 150-year-old Cameron homestead in the 400 block of N. Front St. in Harrisburg, which Dobson said he restored.


Dobson also has a track record in commercial development. Most recently, he has been a partner in transforming the former Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School on South Cameron Street into the River City Blues Club and Dart Room, which opened in late August.


Phantom Theatre’s letter indicates that the company is interested in leasing the entire Elks Building. Besides the Elks Theatre, the building is home to one commercial tenant, Alma’s House of Flowers and Gifts, which has been in the Elks for 36 years.


Tunnell said that Alma’s has a current lease with the authority and that the authority is “obligated to live up to the terms” of that lease. He could not say when the lease will expire. However, Tunnell pledged that Alma’s is “absolutely part of the discussion” when it comes to what happens in the Elks Building going forward.


“We need to hear their ideas and vision. We are certainly going to work with them,” Tunnell said of Kathy Suhr, who has owned Alma’s for the last 21 years.


The authority currently has a month-to-month agreement with GMEDC for GMEDC to continue running the Elks Theatre. Asked what the talks with Phantom Theatre could lead to regarding the future of the theater, Tunnell said, “I don’t know,” because those discussions have not even begun.


But Tunnell said the authority remains committed to the theater. “We have to keep the lights on and continue to operate” the theater, he added, referring to the agreement with GMEDC.


At least for his part, Tunnell has said the authority’s goal is to stabilize the Elks Building physically and financially, and to eventually turn the property over to the private sector and the tax rolls.


While Phantom Theatre is a nonprofit, Tunnell noted that the group’s backers – including Philip Dobson – bring considerable experience in commercial ventures to the table that could come into play if the group leased the entire building.


He expects that the authority’s discussions with the group will focus on a “mixed use” concept for the building, referring to at least part of the property being devoted to purely commercial ventures to enhance the building’s revenue base.


Dobson said part of the attractiveness of the Elks Building is how it relates to plans currently underway for the redevelopment of Middletown.


“Hopefully it will be the cultural square of Middletown,” Dobson said of the Elks Building. “It’s always nice to be in an area where things are improving.”


Dan Miller: 717-944-4628, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 19:26

Hits: 251

State lifts hold on $1 million in grant funds: But Middletown, GMEDC must repay $17,192 from 2009 Main Street grant

The state has lifted a hold it had placed on state funds to Middletown Borough while the borough and the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. provided information on expenses paid by a 2009 Main Street improvement grant that the state had awarded to the borough on GMEDC’s behalf.


Heidi Havens, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, told the Press And Journal in an e-mail that the hold – or “flag,” as she called it – was lifted after the borough provided her department with an audit regarding the $105,000 Main Street grant on Sept. 25.


For the full story, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Press And Journal.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 20:30

Hits: 342

Borough leaders approve 50-year lease of water, sewer system


leasephotoKnullPress and Journal Photo by Dan Miller: Resident Dawn Knull speaks during a joint meeting of Middletown Borough Council and the Middletown Borough Authority on the lease of the town’s water and sewer system.


In one fell swoop, Middletown Borough appears to have entirely eliminated the town’s current long-term debt.


That sounds like a magician’s trick – a rabbit jumping out of a hat. Instead, it is the up-front price that the borough is to get in exchange for agreeing to lease the town’s water and sewer system for 50 years to United Water, a French-owned private company whose U.S. operations are based in Harrington Park, N.J.


For the full story, CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Press And Journal.




Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 20:27

Hits: 424

Another power outage in Middletown

Last week it was a bird, this week it may have been a squirrel.

In any event, Middletown residents early this morning experienced the second power outage within nine days.

Borough Communications Director Chris Courogen said the outage occurred at about 6:40 a.m. today. 

He did not immediately provide details concerning where the power loss occurred. However, a person in the borough office earlier today said the outage appeared to be concentrated in the areas of East Emaus, Race and Rupp streets.

Judging by posts to the Press and Journal Facebook page, the outage also impacted portions of East Main and Adelia streets, a portion of the 600 block of Vine Street; and parts of East Water,  Spruce, and Maple streets.

The outage lasted close to an hour and a half, as power was restored by 8 a.m., according to the Facebook posts.

Courogen said he couldn't say for certain, but suspected that a wayward squirrel may have been the culprit. Public Works Director Ken Klinepeter could not be reached.

On Tuesday July 15 borough residents and businesses lost electricity for about 90 minutes. That outage was blamed on a bird that got into the electrical equipment and led to a number of fuses being tripped.

While Middletown isn't the only place where the electricity goes out on occasion, Courogen said it does seem to be happening with more regularity of late - and that critters like birds and squirrels are a major reason why.

"I suspect that the (Middletown Borough Council) Public Works Committee will start looking" at what can be done to solve the problem, Courogen said.


Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 17:08

Hits: 439

Here's your chance to meet two other finalists for Middletown top cop

Middletown residents will have the chance to see – and possibly meet – the two remaining finalists to become the borough's next police chief on Monday, July 21.


Middletown Borough Council's public safety committee will interview one of the two finalists behind closed doors at 4 p.m. in council chambers at the borough hall. The closed-door session will last about 30 minutes, after which the committee will present the candidate to the public and ask the candidate several questions in open session.


Then, starting at 5 p.m., the committee will repeat this same process for the other finalist.


If you cannot be at either the 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. session, your best shot to meet either or both of the two candidates could be at about 6 p.m.


By then, the committee expects to be done with its part of the process, said Councilor Scott Sites, public safety committee chairman. So from about 6 p.m. on, the candidates will be free to meet and mingle with residents, and answer their questions – if the candidates choose to do so.


Borough residents already have the scoop on one of the three finalists, John Bey of Susquehanna Twp. Bey could not make Monday's session, so the committee interviewed Bey and presented him to the public on Tuesday, July 15.

Bey took full opportunity of the chance to meet with borough residents in council chambers after the committee was done with him.


As for the other two finalists, who will be interviewed on Monday: One is from this area, while the other is from the Midwest.


The full council will meet during its monthly committee-of-the-whole session at 7 p.m. on Monday. However, council will not act on the top cop job at that meeting, Sites said.


The target date for council to choose the next chief is Monday, Aug. 4, Sites said.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 July 2014 19:46

Hits: 437