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Elks Theatre for sale, finally, but maybe ICDA should stay: Editorial

Posted 12/26/18

Finally, the Elks Theatre is on track to be sold.

The Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, which owns it on behalf of the borough, should consider any reasonable offer for …

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Elks Theatre for sale, finally, but maybe ICDA should stay: Editorial

Posted

Finally, the Elks Theatre is on track to be sold.

The Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, which owns it on behalf of the borough, should consider any reasonable offer for the 107-year-old structure.

Every day the borough owns it is another day that a private owner could be paying taxes on it. It’s another day when the borough is paying for utilities on it. It’s another day that it sits deteriorating from non-use.

We hope there aren’t any major restrictions put into a potential sale. It would be great to have it serve a public use, such as a theater or a performing arts center, listing agent Greg Rothman of RSR told the Press & Journal.

But it appears the time for it to be a theater likely has passed. That’s something that many people might regret, but it’s a reality. If the ICDA couldn’t reach a deal to transfer the theater for $1 to Friends of the Elks Theatre, a nonprofit group, which it failed to do over the course of several years, then we don’t see how it will remain a theater once it is up for sale.

There also doesn’t seem to be a public outcry for it to remain a theater.

With all that said, we are intrigued about what might become of the space. It likely will be a tough sell, but it’s in a prominent location, and it is a huge space.

In June 2016, Ian Reddinger was new to the borough council. He raised some eyebrows when he said that an outside investor should come in and transform the Elks Theatre into luxury condominiums, retail storefronts, or a combination of the two. 

We thought that idea had merit then. Now, after the theater has sat closed for almost four years, it sounds even better.

But let’s not forget the ICDA, which in theory will disband once the Elks Theatre is sold. We think the council should reconsider getting rid of it and instead “reboot” it as an economic development agent for the community — an agent that it lacks now.

The ICDA was formed to target the downtown business district.

“It will be a development agency that will have power the borough does not have on its own,” such as issuing bonds, said Chris Courogen, who was then borough secretary and direc­tor of communications.

It completed several projects, including seeing through the downtown streetscape and the deal to start the Tattered Flag craft brewery/distillery in the Elks Building.

However, on June 7, 2016, Middletown Borough Council voted 4-3 to dissolve it. Reddinger made the motion to get rid of the authority, saying it should go away because except for Mayor James H. Curry III, all members at that time were on the council.

 “Council is making all the decisions. Having the authority is just doing it twice,” he said at the time.

Its end was slowed because it still owned the McNair House and the Elks Theatre.

Ever since the vote to dissolve it, the ICDA has been in limbo. Until recently, its five members were four council members and Curry. This is not a healthy composition. A majority of the seven-member council also serves on this body. Resident Bob Hauser objected to four borough council members being on the ICDA at an August council meeting, saying it creates “the appearance of impropriety” in that four councilors constitutes a quorum of the council.

We agree. We assume they were selected to be “placeholders” pending the imminent end to the ICDA.

But should it be dissolved just because there was an apparent problem in finding members? The original ICDA had two council members and three business-related people on it. That’s the makeup that it should have.

Dawn Knull recently resigned from the ICDA, so it is looking for a replacement. Apply by Dec. 28 by emailing a letter of interest to jobs@middletownborough.com, or by mail addressed to Grace Miller, borough secretary, 60 W. Emaus St., Middletown, PA 17057. The ad for the position says applicants must be borough residents, although non-borough residents have served on it before. We would prefer it be open to non-borough residents as well.

We urge the council to reconsider dissolving the ICDA, then reconstitute its membership by having the mayor and another council member resign. Then find three business-minded community advocates to be on it and go back to what it was created to do — help the business, commercial, industrial and economic development of Middletown.

Yes, in theory, the council should play a role in that. But we think having a body devoted wholly to such matters is beneficial. We urge council to give it another chance.