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Some funding OK'd for Elks Theatre

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Money received from selling two downtown Middletown properties would go toward renovating the Elks Theatre under a motion approved by borough council on Aug. 3.

In addition, money that the borough gets over the next two years from leasing a cell tower to AT&T — an estimated $50,000 — would also go toward the theater renovations, under the motion that council approved 5-0.

The McNair House property on the northeast corner of North Union and East Emaus streets, and the site of the former Klahr Building next to Roberto’s Pizza on South Union Street are owned by the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.

The authority wants to sell both properties as part of winding down the authority itself, which the council has voted to dissolve. The McNair House likely would need to be appraised before it is put on the market.

Applying proceeds from the cell tower lease and from selling the properties toward the Elks Theatre renovations was among a series of motions regarding the theater that Councilor Ian Reddinger sought to introduce during the meeting.

Reddinger, who was appointed to council in May to replace Greg Wilsbach, also succeeded in getting council to approve setting up a bank account that would be used for all funds that are raised toward the Elks Theatre renovations.

However, Reddinger felt stymied in his attempt to get council to approve another one of his motions, that would have called on council to appoint three to five Middletown residents to a committee that would be in charge of raising the money to fund the Elks Theatre renovations.

Councilor Robert Reid expressed concerns that the proposed committee would be in conflict with Friends of the Elks Theatre, the nonprofit group that wants to lease the theater from the borough for 10 years and operate it as a movie theater/performing arts center.

“I think you are going to have the two groups bumping heads,” Reid said.

Councilor Diana McGlone also said she was “confused” about what Reddinger sought to accomplish by forming the committee. 

“Reid and McGlone don’t want the public to be involved. They want the Friends of the Elks to do it,” Reddinger told the Press And Journal after the meeting on Friday, Aug. 5.

“That is absolutely false,” McGlone said in response. At this point, forming a committee to raise funds is putting the cart before the horse, she said.

Council first needs to decide if the borough will retain ownership of the Elks Theatre. If so, council needs to come up with an accurate figure for what it will cost to renovate the theater and reopen it as a multi-use complex. These two decisions will drive the rest of the process, she said.

“Once we have the figures we can step back (and decide) how we want to” raise the money, and whether any direct borough funding will be needed.

Her questions regarding Reddinger’s proposed committee had nothing to do with Friends of the Elks, McGlone said.

“It is economic development for our community if the theater is to be fixed up to be a performing arts center. I don’t care if Friends of the Elks are running it or Friends of the Moose or Friends of Jimmy Dean,” McGlone said.

She believes her approach and that of Reddinger regarding the theater really aren’t that different. The issue has more to do with process. Nothing about Reddinger’s motions was on the agenda for the Aug. 3 meeting, so she didn’t know anything about what he planned to propose.

“When things are brought out that no one knows about, it creates confusion for other council members and for the public,” McGlone said.

Reddinger said his intent behind bringing up the motions was for council to take some kind of action to get the ball rolling on the theater — in light of a special meeting council had held on the theater in July in which it seemed like an overwhelming majority of residents support reopening the Elks movie house, which has been closed since April 2015.

Council President Ben Kapenstein expressed support for Reddinger’s motion to form a committee, saying that it is not in conflict with what the Friends group wants to do.

There are improvements that must be done to the theater space before it can be leased to any entity for any purpose, Kapenstein said. The committee would be charged with raising the money to undertake the needed improvements, which Kapenstein said is “a separate issue” from who ultimately owns and operates the theater down the road.

But others, including some in the audience, saw the committee as a duplication of effort, given the Friends proposal — which has now been on the table for a year without being formally accepted or even being acted upon by either council or the authority.

“Why not let Friends of the Elks do the fundraising?” said resident Sean Vaccarino, who ran unsuccessfully for a borough council seat representing the First Ward in 2015.

Complicating the issue is that the amount of money needed to renovate the Elks Theatre is a moving target.

The cost to renovate the theater and reopen it as a multi-functional venue offering plays and live entertainment besides showing movies would be about $500,000, based on the Friends of the Elks proposal submitted to the authority in August 2015.

But the cost to reopen the Elks just as a movie house was estimated at closer to $1.3 million during the July 21 public meeting by Jonathan Crist, an attorney living in Conewago Township who operated the Elks Theatre from 1986 to 2005, and who is part owner of two comparable downtown movie houses in Northampton and Montgomery counties.

A new wrinkle was introduced during that same July 21 meeting, when it was made public that Tattered Flag & Still Works — the partnership that now controls all of the Elks Building except for the theater space — had expressed interest in partnering with Friends of the Elks toward reopening the theater.

As a first step, Tattered Flag proposed that the construction company now converting the Elks into the Tattered Flag combined brewery/distillery/brew pub do a walk-through of the theater to come up with a solid estimate for what the renovations would cost.

During council’s Aug. 3 meeting, Council Vice President Damon Suglia suggested taking no action on Reddinger’s motion to appoint a committee until council can get a better handle on Tattered Flag’s intentions regarding the theater.

For example, if A.P. Williams — the construction company now working in the Elks for Tattered Flag — can come up with definitive numbers for the cost of the renovations, then the borough would have a much better idea regarding how much money needs to be raised. This would also save the borough the cost of hiring its own engineer to come up with the numbers.

“How serious are they?” Suglia asked of Tattered Flag. “Let’s talk to them and then maybe put the committee in place.”

Pat Devlin, one of the four Tattered Flag partners, told the Press And Journal earlier that Tattered Flag cannot make any decisions regarding its involvement in the Elks Theatre until the cost of renovating the space can be nailed down.

On Friday, Aug. 5, Devlin told the Press And Journal there was nothing new to report regarding A.P. Williams coming up with estimates for the cost of the theater renovations. 

Another Tattered Flag partner, Matt Fritz, said he was not sure how far the effort had gotten.

“We don’t have a completed analysis,” Fritz said. “That’s what we are waiting on. At that point we can have a real conversation about” Tattered Flag’s potential involvement in the theater.

The Friends group is looking to the borough to pay for the renovations. The group has pledged to help with fundraising and grant writing. Donors are lined up to give the Friends group money toward reopening the theater, but the money isn’t going to start flowing until the Friends group has some kind of commitment from the borough, the group has said.

One of the motions Reddinger sought to make during the Aug. 3 meeting was that no borough tax dollars go toward the renovations but that it instead be funded entirely through grants and fundraising.

As much as $500,000 could be raised by selling the roughly 500 seats in the theater to donors who would be recognized with their name on a plaque on each one of the seats, in return for a per-seat donation of $1,000, Reddinger told the Press And Journal on Aug. 5.

“That’s almost half the money” needed to renovate the theater, based on the preliminary estimates, Reddinger said. “Why can’t that be done?”

Tax dollars were used to buy the McNair property, which the authority acquired for $325,000 in 2014, and the Klahr Building, which the borough acquired for $12,000 in 2013. It subsequently was torn down.

Reddinger said the motion to apply proceeds from selling these two properties toward the Elks Theatre does not conflict with his position that no tax dollars be used as part of the renovations.

“We’re not raising taxes or electric rates” to pay for the renovations, he said. “It’s almost like money we didn’t have,” he added, referring to proceeds from selling the two properties.

These proceeds would help “kick start” the fundraising effort. The borough could also use the money as a source of matching dollars in applying for grants that would go toward the renovations, Reddinger added.

However, Reddinger ended up abstaining from the motion to apply the proceeds to the Elks Theatre, as did Councilor Anne Einhorn. Einhorn’s husband, Gordon Einhorn, is on the board of directors of Friends of the Elks.

Reddinger’s reason for abstaining was harder to ascertain, although it seemed out of frustration.

“Just because,” Reddinger said when asked why he abstained.

Voting to devote the proceeds to the Elks Theatre was Kapenstein, Suglia, McGlone, Reid, and Councilor Dawn Knull.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 August 2016 15:10

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A Night (Out) to Remember

OfficerFrawleyWEBPhoto by Gabe Mink - Officer Frawley of Penn State Police and Elizabeth Shelley of Middletown go for a spin.

 

Law enforcement and first responders were everywhere at Hoffer Park on Tuesday night, Aug. 2, for the town’s annual National Night Out event to foster relations between residents and borough police.

People were everywhere, too — an estimated 5,000 showed up to take part in a variety of events, all free. That’s compared with about 3,500 last year, said Officer Gary Rux, organizer of the event.

State police on horseback were there, along with K-9 units, a course set up for people to safely experience driving while intoxicated without taking a drink, and much more.

Middletown’s event has blossomed over the years into a one-night community festival; complete with free food, live entertainment, games for children, and novelties like McGruff and a man walking on stilts.

“In my opinion the community has always been supportive, not just in tough times like now,” Rux said, referencing the recent shooting of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge and tension between law enforcement and residents in some U.S. cities.

Still, the event almost didn’t happen.

“As a precaution I considered submitting a request to cancel this year’s Middletown Night Out. But I knew how important this event is to the community, to the children, and the police department,” Rux said in an email to the Press And Journal. “During the event officers, including myself, were overwhelmed with an outpouring of praise through hugs, hands shakes, and thank-yous as many of Tuesday night’s guests express their gratitude.”

With the help of media coverage in recent years — and no doubt the free food — Middletown’s National Night Out has earned the reputation of being one of the better such events in the region, drawing folks from all over Dauphin County.

“I read that there would be like 50 vendors here,” said Keysha Bradnick, who came with her family to Middletown’s National Night Out from Swatara Township. “We go to Swatara every year and I just wanted to see a different one.”

Toralicia Hills just recently moved to Middletown. She attended with her children Richard Adair, 12; Zayor Washington, 4; and Forever Flemister, 2. 

It was her first time attending, and she said it was really nice. 

The meaning behind the event wasn’t lost on her.

“Especially with everything going on, it sets a good example,” she said of the police relationships.

Veronica Helwig of Middletown came to National Night Out for the same reasons she come every year — entertainment, and a fun night out with the family.

“I have kids running around all over right now,” she said. 

It’s also important that the community show support for the police, especially now when law enforcement seems under siege nationwide, Helwig added.

Fostering good police-community relations is an uphill battle in the best of times, said Patrolman James Bennett, who has worn the badge of a Middletown police officer for 10 years.

Just about every encounter the average citizen has with police is negative, whether they are calling the cops to report a crime or the cops are being called on them, “so when we have a chance to make a positive impact in events like this, we do,” Bennett said. “It’s a good thing. It’s absolutely a good thing.”

He thinks police public relations in Middletown are “positive.”

“You are always going to get critics, but by and large I think the police department serves this community well and I think the community supports us,” Bennett said.

Another part of Middletown’s National Night Out tradition is recognizing the many residents and businesses who volunteer their time and resources to make each year’s event happen.

It takes a big room, so Middletown Borough Council will be moving its Aug. 16 meeting into the MCSO Building to publicly thank the volunteers.

Other communities are looking to follow Middletown’s example, among them next door neighbor Lower Swatara Township.

“Very conspicuously, Lower Swatara did not have a National Night Out,” Commissioner Todd Truntz said during the board’s Aug. 3 meeting. He advocated the township start planning to hold its own National Night Out for the first time in August 2017.

Commissioner Michael Davies agreed, noting the benefits to the community of such an event. “We would be glad to work that into our budget.”

It was good news to Sgt. Scott Young, the officer currently in charge of the Lower Swatara police department.

“I would like to have a night out. That’s on the things to do list,” Young said.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2016 11:33

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More than 600 trees will be cut down this fall at Sunset Golf Course in Londonderry Township, in the first visible step of a runway improvement project for Harrisburg International Airport. 

 

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Vapeology Not Blowing Smoke

RyanBurkett VapeologyWEBPress And Journal Staff Photo by Eric Wise — Vapors, not smoke, linger in the air at Vapeology as owner Ryan Burkett of Royalton discusses how his business plans to keep moving forward in the face of a new 40 percent tax on his shop’s products adopted through the 2016-17 state revenue law.

 

The state’s new 40 percent tax on electronic cigarettes and the associated juices has already started pushing many vape shops out of business, but the owner of Middletown’s Vapeology plans to stay in business while opening a new showroom and lounge.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2016 15:17

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