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Full agenda awaits reactivated Middletown Planning Board

Members of Middletown’s resurrected planning commission will find a full plate of work before their first meeting is even scheduled.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 16:24

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Two Bridges on PA 283 to close; repairs due to truck crash damage

Area motorists in the Middletown area may find travel a bit more time consuming this fall. PennDOT announced two local bridges will be closed and traffic patterns changed so that repairs can be made from when the spans were damaged on May 2.


A truck hauling an excavator traveling east on State Route 283 hit both the North Union Street and Newberry Road overpasses. A boom on the excavator, not the truck, struck the bridges, according to Greg Penny, a PennDOT.


“Traffic has been shifted away from the damaged beams,” he said.


 Penny said both bridges will be closed Sept. 1 to Nov. 22 for the replacement of the beams. “Traffic restrictions on Route 283 should be minimal – such as intermittent closures (usually up to 15 minutes) for the removal of each beam and setting each of the new beams,” Penny said.


 “Eastbound Route 283 in the vicinity of Newberry Road may be restricted to a single lane for about nine days because of the limited room to place a crane to assist with the beam work.”


 Traffic will be detoured around the North Union Street overpass in Lower Swatara Twp. from Sept. 1 to Nov. 22 for these repairs, said Anne Shambaugh, Lower Swatara’s township manager.


The project is estimated to cost about $500,000, Penny said. PA State Police stopped the truck after the second bridge was struck, he said. “We are pursuing damaged beam removal and replacement costs from the hauler’s insurance company to reimburse the cost of repairs.”

Eric Wise: 717-944-4628, or
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 16:19

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PSU Harrisburg unites against hatred

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About 40 members of the Penn State Harrisburg community gathered on the local campus June 20 in a ceremony to commemorate victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 16:20

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Paving starts on streetscape project

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Crews this week are working to pave sections of South Union Street between Emaus and Brown Street as part of the downtown Middletown streetscape project.Paving3


The streetscape includes improvements from Spring and Union streets south to Ann Street.  The improvements include stormwater system upgrades, new sidewalks and curbing, new lighting and traffic signal poles, and new trees.


The intersection of Emaus and Union streets is to reopen by the end of June, according to an estimate that has been provided by HRG, the borough's consulting engineers on the project.


Work is to then shift south to the intersection of Brown and Union streets. Brown Street is to close by the end of June or early July, although trains will still have access to the tracks on Brown Street, officials have said.


The entire downtown streetscape project is to be finished by sometime in September, borough officials have said.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 16:36

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Elks Theatre: Are Supporters living in the past?

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Middletown is turning to its residents for input regarding use of the Elks Theatre, while the borough council’s newest member says he would rather see luxury condominiums, retail storefronts, or a combination of the two at the site.

 A special public meeting to find out what borough residents want to see done with the historic movie theater will be held in council’s chambers at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 21.

 Council President Ben Kapenstein announced the call for citizens’ input in reaction to requests from several councilors during the June 21 council meeting. Repeated appeals have been made for the borough to make some kind of decision as to the theater at 4 W. Emaus St., which has been closed since April 2015.

 In the meantime, council’s newest member, Ian Reddinger, is proposing that the Elks Theatre be sold for $1 to the Friends of the Elks, a nonprofit organization.

“I would not put a dime into it,” Redding said. “It is a horrible investment. You will never get your money back on a one-screen theater, period. You won’t. I wouldn’t put my money in it so I wouldn’t put taxpayers’ money into it.”

 He said he doesn’t feel that reopening the Elks Theatre as a theater will work, because people don’t go to movies anymore. 

“I haven’t been to a movie in probably three years,” Reddinger said. “It’s a dying business. You have Netflix, you have RedBox, you have Amazon, you have Apple TV. People aren’t going out to movies.”

Those who want to see the Elks Theatre reopened as a theater are simply living in the past, he said.

 “What happens when the generation that grew up with that movie theater and has those memories - what happens when that generation is not with us anymore?” he asked. “Now you have a one-screen movie theater with maybe half a million invested in it that is just sitting there. It’s time for new generations to create new history and new memories down there. We can’t be stuck in the past.”

Reddinger’s proposal could be dead on arrival, as the Friends group opposes the borough selling the Elks Theater, according to a statement emailed to the Press And Journal by Gordon Einhorn, a member of the Friends of the Elks board of directors.

Except for the theater space, the rest of the Elks Building is now property of Tattered Flag and Still Works, the company that is transforming most of the historic 105-year-old building into a combination craft brewery/distillery/brew pub.

In January, Tattered Flag is to start repaying a $1.5 million loan from the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority. About $1.1 million of that is to support renovations tied to the conversion; the remaining $400,000 is money Tattered Flag used to purchase most of the Elks Building - all but the theater - from the authority.

Mayor James H. Curry III’s initial reaction to Reddinger’s proposal is that the borough should retain ownership of the Elks Theatre. Beyond that, the mayor said he wants to wait until after hearing what people have to say during the July 21 meeting.

 

Lease proposal

The authority, which still owns the Elks Theatre, has had before it since August 2015 a proposal from the Friends group to lease the theater for 10 years. The authority has yet to take action on it.

The Friends group is the successor to the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. GMEDC owned the Elks Building and operated the theater for several years until 2014, when the authority acquired the building. The GMEDC continued to operate the theater by leasing the space from the authority, until April 2015 when the authority closed the theater for renovations.

The Friends group has proposed that the authority invest $370,000 into the theater for renovations. Work that has to be done to the bathrooms means the price tag is closer to $500,000, the authority has said.

However, Reddinger does not believe that any tax dollars should be used to reopen the theater. 

“Let them (the Friends group) find their own financing, let them come up with their own money and let them do whatever they want with the building,” Reddinger told the Press And Journal during an interview on Wednesday, June 22. “If they fail, they fail. They don’t take the borough down with them. They don’t take the taxpayers down with them.”

 

The Elks Building and MICDA 

Reddinger has been on council only since May 3, when he was appointed to fill the seat representing the Second Ward that was vacated when Greg Wilsbach resigned to apply to become the borough’s public works director.

Council appointed Reddinger to the authority and shortly after, the authority’s remaining members tapped Reddinger to be chairman of the authority. But the authority itself has been in a state of turmoil since January, when the new leadership that took over council in the wake of the 2015 election decided to replace all but one of the authority’s five members.

The new authority members - including Curry and three members of the new council - were only supposed to remain on the authority as long as it took for council to find new members from the community. But that has never happened. Instead, the authority is basically a duplication of the council, since council when it sacked the previous members also acted to strip the authority of its power.

The authority’s existence appears to have been relegated to history when on June 7 Reddinger proposed a motion to disband the authority which council approved 4-3. For months, Curry had been urging the council get rid of the authority. But the legal process to dissolve the authority could take up to three months, according to borough Solicitor Adam Santucci.

During the June 21 meeting Reddinger proposed that the authority auction off the Elks Theatre and the McNair House property, which the authority also owns on the northeast corner of North Union and East Emaus streets.

 

Councilor, mayor debate theater

The June 21 council meeting quickly descended into chaos, with Curry and Councilor Anne Einhorn engaging in a heated verbal battle over the future of the authority and the theater.

Curry accused Einhorn of being “disingenuous” regarding the theater, in that her husband, Gordon Einhorn, is on the Friends’ board of directors. Einhorn and her family also were also involved in running the theater when it was being operated by GMEDC. 

“I do have a vested interest in the Elks,” Einhorn said, turning away from Curry to face the audience in council chambers. “Because I think that the town needs it.”

 “Do I have a vested interest in terms of whether my family is part of that or not? No. We will volunteer to be a part of it no matter what. We don’t make any money on it. We put several thousand dollars’ worth of it earlier on when we were keeping it alive on a shoestring. I don’t want to see that go to somebody who is going to turn it into something that the town doesn’t want.

“If you don’t want Friends of the Elks to run it, then don’t accept that proposal. I’m not telling you to accept that proposal. What I’m suggesting is that you listen to what the public would like us to do with the Elks and find someone who is willing to run it the way the public wants. I don’t care who that is. You can believe that or not, Mr. Mayor.”

Curry afterward told the Press And Journal that Einhorn should recuse herself from any discussion or vote regarding the future of the Elks Theatre - as long as the Friends proposal remains the only proposal that is before council.

In January 2015, Curry asked then-Council President Chris McNamara to recuse himself from voting on whether to appoint Mike Bowman to the borough council, as McNamara at the time was allegedly in a relationship with Bowman’s daughter. McNamara instead was among those voting to appoint Bowman.

“It may not have been a legal conflict of interest but I, other council members, and the public certainly believed it to be an ethical and moral one,” Curry said of McNamara at the time in a statement emailed to the Press And Journal. “The current situation (involving Einhorn) is no different.”

“Blanket statements about the need to reopen the theater that appeal to emotion are a tactical way of dancing around the issue,” Curry continued in the statement. “The bottom line is, at this moment, there is only one proposal pending with regard to the theater and that is the one presented by Friends of the Elks. As no other options currently exist, I believe Mrs. Einhorn should recuse herself from the discussion.”  

 

Condos or storefronts?

Reddinger told the Press And Journal that the authority - and the borough, for that matter - is deriving no tax revenue from either the theater or the McNair House.

Reddinger, a 28-year-old entrepreneur with his own electrical contracting business and another company that owns automated teller machines (ATMs), opposes the borough investing any tax dollars into reopening the Elks Theatre because, as an investor, he would not put any of his own money into such a deal. 

To Reddinger, what makes more sense is an outside investor coming in and transforming the Elks Theatre into luxury condominiums, retail storefronts, or a combination of the two. 

He sees his proposal to sell the Elks Theatre for $1 to the Friends group as a “compromise” with those who believe that reopening the theater is a viable option for the town and what residents want.

If the Friends buys the building and their plan for the theater doesn’t work, the building can be taken over by a bank that can sell the property to an outside investor, Reddinger said.

As for reaction from other authority members, Councilor Diana McGlone said in an emailed statement she would support selling the Elks Theatre space to the Friends group for $1 “only if I felt comfortable that Friends of the Elks or any other entity has the monetary capacity to raise the funds needed quickly and have the theater reopened by the end of the year, with the goal that the theater functions as an entertainment venue.” 

Councilor and authority member Dawn Knull said, “I am open to listen to all proposals for the Elks building.”

 

Friends group opposes sale

Einhorn met with Reddinger in Middletown last weekend to discuss Reddinger’s proposal, but the group’s position remains unchanged that the borough should continue owning the theater.

“The Elks Theatre is over 100 years old and is one of the oldest movie theaters in the country,” Einhorn said in an emailed statement to the Press And Journal. “Because of its historical significance and its deep connection with the community, it should be considered a community asset and should continue to be owned by the borough as it has been for the past several years.”

Reddinger said the theater has no future as a “one-screen movie theater,” but the Friends’ proposal calls for the borough to invest in improvements to allow the Elks to also be a venue for plays, dance recitals, fundraisers and concerts, Einhorn said.

“Like the Main Street Gym and the library, which are both borough-owned properties that are operated by nonprofit organizations, the theater would become an important publicly owned facility that would contribute to the quality of life in the borough,” he said.

 

Donors, available funds

The Friends group has said it has donors waiting in the wings who are willing to contribute money toward reopening the theater. But these donors are not going to give until the authority, or the borough, provides some kind of endorsement to the Friends proposal, representatives of the Friends group have argued.

Curry has asked representatives of the Friends group to provide one or more letters of intent from these donors indicating their willingness to provide financial support. To date, no such letters or documentation have been produced from the Friends group, he said.

The authority doesn’t have $500,000 available to put into the Elks Theatre at this time, according to financial consultants to the authority. Funds could be available by the end of the year, but whether the borough can - or should - invest that kind of money in the theater is another question.

“It’s one thing to want something,” Curry said. “It’s another thing to figure out how you get it. I want to see the letters from investors. That way I can evaluate the proposal and see how much taxpayer money would it take. I need to see the global picture here.”

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 15:15

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