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Martial arts school coming to corner of Emaus and Union

Pfist WEBPress and Journal Staff Photo by Dan Miller — Duane Pelletier stands inside his new Phist Martial Arts studio about to open in downtown Middletown.


The newest business in downtown Middletown is likely a familiar face to a lot of borough residents.

Phist Martial Arts, the karate school Duane Pelletier is opening in the first floor storefront across from Tattered Flag at West Emaus and South Union streets, revives a passion that Pelletier has been following for most of his 56 years.

Twenty-eight years ago, in 1988, Pelletier opened a karate school on Spruce Street in Middletown. Later the landlord wanted to do something else with the property, so Pelletier moved his school to Highspire, where he remained until 2009 when he said he had to close because of the bad economy.

Now, Pelletier believes the economy has bounced back enough for him to make another go of it.

“Parents have a little extra money,” Pelletier said. “I didn’t want to get back into it until I thought the economy was good enough that parents could go out and do something like this for their children.”

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, Pelletier will hold an open house at Phist Martial Arts so people can learn more about what he wants to do. 

Classes will start on Monday, Oct. 3, and run from Monday through Thursday. Pelletier will also offer a Saturday class.

Phist Martial Arts will focus on traditional taekwondo classes for children and adults. Children seven years of age and up can take the classes, although Pelletier will accept 6-year-olds. 

There is no upper age limit. Pelletier has had students as old as 65. Any adult of any age can sign up, as long as their doctor says it’s OK. Adults can take classes, or they can sign up for cross training and personal fitness classes.

“Whatever you want out of it, that’s fine,” he said. “If you want me to motivate you and make you work your butt off, I’ll do that too.”

Pelletier started practicing martial arts in 1981, when he was in the Air Force and living in a bad part of town in Austin, Texas. In a January 2013 article in the Press And Journal, Pelletier talked of seeing guys get stabbed outside the apartment where he lived with his wife and then 16-month-old daughter.

He felt that he needed the martial arts training to help protect his family, but it ended up evolving into something much greater.

“I taught thousands of kids” over the years since, Pelletier said. “I’ve got doctors, lawyers, Marines, you name it. They are out there and I’m proud of them.”

The space Phist Martial Arts will occupy is one of the key storefronts in the ongoing revitalization of downtown.

The space was last occupied by a hookah lounge that opened in early 2015. The owners at the time talked of great expectations of capturing the Penn State Harrisburg crowd, but for reasons unknown it didn’t happen.

The lounge quietly died, and the space has been vacant for several months. 

The space is part of a building owned by Dana Ward. Ward’s daughter is one of Pelletier’s black belt students, he said. A few months back when Ward told him she still hadn’t leased the space, Pelletier decided he would revive his dream.

“I want to get with the younger kids and teach. That’s what I’ve been good at. That’s what I enjoy doing,” he said.


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2016 13:27

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Will making changes to borough properties become more difficult?

Middletown Borough Council likely will decide Oct. 4 whether to move forward with the so-called “downtown overlay” zoning revisions that in some cases would affect changes owners want to make to their properties.

If council chooses to proceed with the overlay, council must also provide “guidance” on whether to adopt all the overlay recommendations as proposed by a consulting firm, or some of the recommendations and which ones, solicitor Adam Santucci advised council on Sept. 20.


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Presentation on proposed downtown overlay by Middletown borough solicitor


Downtown overlay proposed for Middletown

Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 13:14

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State wants to buy out Caravan Court

buyout1WEBPress and Journal Staff Photo by Dan Miller — Mary Robinson sits on the porch of her double-wide mobile home in the former Caravan Court, now known as Harborton Place. Robinson has lived here since 2010, survived the 2011 flood, and says she doesn't want to move. No one has talked to residents about a possible buyout, she said.



The state wants to buy out Caravan Court, the mobile home park off of Vine Street in Middletown that was flooded out in September 2011.

The offer was presented to borough council on Sept. 20 by David R. Grey, an economic development analyst with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The offer is being presented as voluntary. If the borough accepts, funds from DCED would be used to raze all of Caravan Court — 30 to 40 mobile home units according to Grey. From then on, the land would not be developed but would remain “open space” in perpetuity, Grey said.

Caravan Court, owned by Harborton Place MHCLLC, is scheduled for an Oct. 20 sheriff’s sale in Dauphin County Court. Mortgage foreclosure proceedings against Harborton Place LLC were initiated in Dauphin County Court in 2012 by Wells Fargo Bank.

Harborton Place LLC owes $5.29 million to Wells Fargo, according to the sheriff’s sale notice. Harborton Place is also in receivership to Trident Pacific, a company based in California. 

It is not up to Harborton Place whether to accept the DCED buyout, said borough Councilor Robert Reid. 

“If I was the owner, I would say, ‘Buy me, I’m outta here,’ ” Reid said during the council meeting.

What makes sense?

While the buyout may seem an answer to prayer for Harborton Place, whether it makes sense for the borough is open to question.

Besides the loss of property tax, electric revenue, and a decline in water and sewer revenue, the borough is spending “significant dollars” to upgrade the equipment that supplies electricity to the mobile home park under a settlement reached in a lawsuit that was filed against the borough by Harborton Place, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the council.

“To agree to enter into a voluntary program to demolish those structures would be a loss” to the borough, Klinepeter said.

Buying out Harborton Place would add to the significant amount of lost property tax and electric revenue — and lost residents — that is the legacy of the 2011 flooding from Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene.

The flooding resulted in the permanent loss of 142 mobile homes and 74 single-family and multi-family homes throughout Middletown.

The storm also caused $900,000 in damages to public facilities such as parks, roads and bridges throughout Middletown and Lower Swatara Township.

A portion of Caravan Court “could not be redeveloped” after 2011 because of the flood, said Borough Solicitor Adam Santucci. Part of the property was also acquired by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as part of the turnpike bridge expansion project abutting the park on Vine Street.

“It’s gotten smaller” since 2011, Santucci said of Harborton Place.

After the 2011 flooding, the borough paid up front the cost of demolishing homes and relocating people, and then applied for reimbursement from the federal government. It took until the end of 2015 to get all of the money back.

It appears that the process would be similar if the borough accepted DCED’s offer. The borough would hire the demolition company and manage “the whole process” and then get reimbursed through the state, Klinepeter said.

News to residents

Word that the state is interested in buying out the former Caravan Court came as news to Mary Robinson and several other residents of the mobile home park. Robinson was the only one who agreed to allow her name to be used.

Robinson and the other residents did receive notice of the upcoming sheriff’s sale. However, the residents didn’t seem to take the notice too seriously in that the property has been listed for sheriff’s sale before and nothing happened.

One resident who has lived in the park all her life and asked not to be identified said she would be open to the buyout, depending upon how much compensation is offered for her family’s mobile home and for the cost of relocating.

But another man who has lived in the park for several decades said that the environment in Caravan Court is much better now than it used to be, and he and his wife don’t want the hassle of moving at this point in their lives.

Robinson and others living in the park own their mobile home, or are in the process of financing it. Everyone pays rent to the trailer park for the ground upon which their home sits. The trailers are not permanent structures.

Robinson has lived here since 2010 or early 2011, before the flood. She has five sons, one of whom also lives in Caravan Court two doors down from her. Her family wanted her to move to the trailer park so they can keep a closer eye on her, Robinson said.

She likes it here and doesn’t want to move. The park is a small peaceful enclave seemingly removed from the hustle and bustle of the traffic going by on busy Vine Street, yet Robinson is close to everything she needs to get to — the grocery store, the doctor, hairdresser, etc.

“It’s a perfect place to live for people that are (on a) low income and are retired. I don’t want to go into a nursing home or assisted living where they take your money,” Robinson said. “I am 67 but that don’t mean I’m dead.”

She said her son and his wife want to move, but that’s because they have six kids and need more room.

Robinson said she is not required to have flood insurance. She doesn’t have it because she says she doesn’t need it. 

She had to evacuate in 2011, but she didn’t get any water inside of her trailer. She had to replace her drier because the drier hose runs under the trailer, but that was it.

“I was lucky,” Robinson said. “The trailer next to me was knocked off its foundation. It’s no longer there.”

Still, she views what happened in 2011 as a freak occurrence.

“It’s not known to be a flood area,” Robinson said of the trailer park. “It was just one of those stupid things that happen, so they say.”

Targeted area

However, Caravan Court has been identified by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency as one of a handful of areas all over the state that DCED is targeting for the flood buyouts, Grey told council. The others are in Harrisburg and in Luzerne and Wyoming counties.

“In conversations with PEMA we have focused on Caravan Court,” Grey said. “That was heavily hit during the flooding.”

In response to Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided $29 million to DCED.

DCED “decided to start a buy out program and set aside $25 million for that purpose,” Grey said.

No one during the meeting was able to put a price tag on the total amount of revenue that the borough would lose if Caravan Court was no more.

The loss of electric revenue was informally estimated at $3,500 a month or about $42,000 a year by Mayor James H. Curry III, based on the 30 to 40 units noted by Grey.

Harborton Place is assessed at $1.47 million for property tax purposes, according to Dauphin County tax records. The borough gets $8,298 in annual property tax revenue from the trailer park, Dauphin County gets $10,133, and Middletown Area School District just less than $31,000 a year.

Councilor Anne Einhorn wanted to know about the amount of financial assistance that the trailer park residents would get to compensate them for the move. 

Grey didn’t have any specifics.

“We do have some funding set aside for downpayment assistance and there are opportunities we can explore” regarding the “redevelopment of multi-family housing,” he said.

Council President Ben Kapenstein asked that Grey provide a “written proposal”  on the buyout offer to council. 

Santucci asked Grey how long council has to give the state an answer.

Grey didn’t give a date, instead referring to the matter as “an ongoing conversation.”


Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 15:05

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HIA plans event targeting China growth

Since 2009, the amount of travel from China into and out of the midstate using Harrisburg International Airport has more than doubled, the airport says.

And that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“Travel is going to explode. That’s what everyone says,” said airport spokesman Scott Miller regarding the potential growth of the Chinese travel market.

To maximize that potential, HIA is hosting a “China Welcome” event to be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4, at The Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey, located in Londonderry Township.

Participating will be Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting firm; and China Ni Hao, a Boyd Group initiative to help airports like HIA attract a greater share of the Chinese travel market.

Among factors driving the increase of Chinese travelers to the midstate is the growing number of students from China attending Penn State Harrisburg, Miller said.

He also noted manufacturing ties between midstate businesses and China, and Chocolate World in Hershey, which is “a big international destination,” Miller added.

Most travelers from China still fly to the East Coast via major gateway airports in New York City and Washington, D.C., that offer nonstop flights. These travelers then take tour buses to visit places in the United States like Hershey and the midstate. But in recent years more travelers from China are connecting from the major gateway airports to secondary airports like HIA, Miller said.

The secondary airports that can best take advantage of this trend are those that go the extra mile in welcoming the Chinese, which is what the Oct. 4 event is all about.
Among things to address are overcoming the language barrier, having good signage, and ensuring that vendors at HIA accept the credit card that travelers from China use.

HIA also hopes to establish better connecting service between HIA and the major gateway airports that offer nonstop service to China; such as in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Washington, D.C., Miller said.

In 2015, 248 Chinese students were enrolled at Penn State Harrisburg — the largest number of students attending from a foreign country, said campus spokeswoman Yvonne Harhigh. Students from China represent about 5.3 percent of all those enrolled at Penn State Harrisburg. International students combined totaled 10.5 percent of the school’s enrollment in 2015, Harhigh said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 15:00

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Lower Swatara planning board makes commercial use recommendations, including Dickerson and Bryncoed

Two areas in Lower Swatara Township were selected for future commercial development in the draft of the township’s comprehensive land use plan as recommended by the township planning commission.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 14:58

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