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Elks Theatre for sale, but now what?: Editorial

Posted 5/29/18

It’s been more than three years since the Elks Theatre closed.

Now, it’s up for sale. Who has the vision to see it through the next 100 years, in what likely will be a new …

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Elks Theatre for sale, but now what?: Editorial

Posted

It’s been more than three years since the Elks Theatre closed.

Now, it’s up for sale. Who has the vision to see it through the next 100 years, in what likely will be a new use?

Media: carousel

Clearly, the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, the borough agency that owns the theater, had little confidence in the Friends of the Elks Theatre, the Middletown-based nonprofit group that was ready to take the theater for $1. It planned to change the theater into a multi-function facility that would show movies and play host to live events.

We don’t know exactly why the decision was made to sell. There are three members of the ICDA: Mayor James H. Curry III and Councilors Dawn Knull and Ian Reddinger. None commented regarding the sale when asked by the Press & Journal, and there was no public discussion at the May 16 meeting when the decision was made.

The Friends group said it provided the information the ICDA requested but received no explanation as to why the decision to sell was made.

The borough also has turned down our Right-to-Know requests to access the 2017 appraisal of the theater, so we don’t know what an expert says it's worth.

That silence does a disservice to residents, who deserve an explanation behind the reasoning to sell, and an idea of its worth as it heads onto the market.

We can quibble with Gordon Einhorn, a member of the Friends’ board of directors, who said “there was strong community support for reopening the theater.” Of late, we have seen little evidence that residents care. There are no groups coming to speak at borough council or ICDA meetings. Maybe everyone outside the Friends group has resolved themselves to the fact that it’s not going to reopen.

We are curious what terms might be insisted upon by the borough for any potential buyer. The theater is in an area zoned for general commercial purposes, which means it is relatively open to any type of business.

Two years ago, Reddinger said the spot was better suited to become luxury condominiums, retail storefronts, or a combination of the two. We didn’t dismiss that idea then, and we don’t now.

This is prime real estate. It’s right next to the Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works. There is another commercial property available right around the corner, as the thrift store site at 17 S. Union St. will be leased out. The abandoned Bunky’s, 10-12 S. Union St., could be up for sale. In other words, that corner of the borough could look much different in several years. We hope those prime spots become homes to new and thriving businesses.

If and when the new Amtrak station is completed (sometime in the 2020s, possibly), and the pedestrian walkway is completed over Route 230 from Penn State Harrisburg, and the Emaus Street extension is opened, it will lead straight past the Elks Theatre location.

In other words, this is a prime spot, ripe for development. Who has the vision to make it happen? Who is going to step up? How will borough leaders help? What role will the ICDA, the development authority, play?

For now, the picture is blurry and we can only ask questions because borough officials aren’t talking.