From the Vault: News from the Jan. 2, 2013, edition of the Press & Journal
‘Things are going
to happen quickly’; Middletown’s makeover will make borough ‘a
great place to be,’ says a consultant hired to design it
Middletown borough manager Tim Konek has …
From the Vault: News from the Jan. 2, 2013, edition of the Press & Journal
‘Things are going to happen quickly’; Middletown’s makeover will make borough ‘a great place to be,’ says a consultant hired to design it
Middletown borough manager Tim Konek has a message for downtown business owners about economic revitalization in Middletown: “Things are going to happen. Things are going to happen quickly.”
Middletown Borough Council rolled out plans for a revamped Middletown in October — everything from a performing arts center and parking garages to connecting Emaus Street with Main Street — and immediately began implementing the plan’s preliminary stages, removing shade trees on South Union Street and authorizing sewer improvements and the narrowing of sidewalks to create angled parking on the street in spring 2013.
But the borough invited downtown business owners to a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 19, with Konek and engineer Daniel Anderton of Dewberry, a consultant, to discuss the next steps.
“We’re very interested in helping you make downtown Middletown a great place to be,” Anderton told business owners. “None of this is carved in stone at this point. These are ideas. ... We’re in the beginning of this process.”
Everyone seemed to agree that the downtown could use a facelift.
“This town doesn’t look good,” said Jim Nardo, the developer behind the proposed Westporte Center commercial complex on West Main Street. “Let’s not kid ourselves.”
The business owners had a lot of items in their wish list, including a coffee shop, high-end and unusual specialty shops, a historically themed downtown, family-friendly attractions and an organic farmers market.
In particular, owners kicked around ways to attract more tourists visiting Harrisburg and Hershey and college students from nearby Penn State Harrisburg — everything from college-friendly food options to specialty tourist attractions to lodging.
Middletown & Hummelstown Railroad owner Wendell Dillinger said he does not know what to tell people who ask what there is to do in Middletown.
“That’s a real, real problem,” Dilligner said. “We need something unique — not the same thing Harrisburg has or Lancaster has.”
In general, business owners also expressed a desire for the borough to work more closely with the businesses.
“As a business owner downtown, you have to have cooperation from the borough, and more often than not we don’t get that,” said Carol Kupp, owner of Kuppy’s Diner.
But not all the talk was negative. Louise Sukle, owner of the Press & Journal, suggested the borough build on what is currently working, including Greater Middletown Economic Development Corporation projects like the downtown façade program and the Elks Theatre.
“The GMEDC has done a very good job maintaining a building with a historical background,” she said.
Business owners also praised the amount of good eats in town, and Clem Gilpin, a Penn State Harrisburg professor and downtown resident, said college students already frequent the downtown.
“The assumption is that no one comes here from the campus,” Gilpin said. “They do. We don’t need a bar [to attract students].”
Probably the biggest disagreement at the meeting centered on the borough’s plan to narrow the borough sidewalks to provide increased parking spaces through angled parking. Among the arguments against it, Linda Bear of Bear’s Emporium is concerned that the narrowed sidewalks could hurt stores like hers that often display items for sale on the sidewalk. Thrift Shop representative Larry Robbins said there could be a problem when clusters of people visit a restaurant like Brownstone Café.
“It’s rare to find any time there’s no parking,” Sukle said, explaining that she does not believe that parking is a problem.
But Dave Kittner, owner of Roberto’s Pizza, said there is often a parking problem on Friday and Saturday nights.
Robin Pellegrini, owner of Alfred’s Victorian restaurant, said she does not know where to suggest large groups park when they come to eat.
Even if there is not a parking problem currently, there may be in the future when the downtown has more businesses, Anderton said.
“One of the things we have to look at is projections,” he said.
Anderton said the plan to narrow the sidewalks could be tweaked to address concerns of business owners, and the plan will require “flexibility” from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to complete.
While there are a lot of suggestion on the table for improving downtown Middletown, Anderton acknowledged that the success of any downtown revitalization plan would require support from the local business owners, some of whom helped to create redevelopment designs in the past with GMEDC.
“I’d like to see more cooperation [between business organizations and the borough] . . . and less of an adversarial relationship,” Sukle agreed. “It’s been adversarial in a lot of ways, and I don’t understand why.”
Council and GMEDC have been feuding throughout 2012, with the borough accusing GMEDC of misusing funds, GMEDC accusing the borough misrepresenting GMEDC’s revitalization efforts, and the two organizations accusing each other of poor communication. Council voted in October to purchase the Elks Theatre from GMEDC through eminent domain.
Sukle, who chained herself to a tree in November to protest the borough’s decision to remove shade trees without consulting business owners, said the borough did not pursue feedback from businesses as early as she would have liked in the redevelopment process, citing the decisions to cut down shade trees and to open up Union Street for construction in spring 2013 as examples of decisions made without public feedback.
“I would have to disagree that we were in from the beginning,” she said.
Nardo defended the borough’s process, saying feedback from business owners was not needed for infrastructure improvements.
“Nobody’s input is going to matter on the infrastructure,” he said. “If you have sewer problems, nobody cares [how they are fixed] as long as you have sewer.”
Greg Jones, owner of Hairport & Touch of Class Tanning, agreed, using an analogy: A foundation needs to be completed before anything can be built on top of it.
Bear disagreed. “I don’t just build a foundation and come back later and say I’m going to build something there,” she said. “That’s what it sounds like [the borough is] doing, and it’s worrisome.”
Konek chalked up the angst to surprise that the borough is making good on its word in promising to redevelop downtown Middletown.
“Maybe the biggest surprise is that things are happening and happening quickly,” he said.
Anderton asked owners to e-mail him their suggestions about the redevelopment plan, but Sukle wants further assurances of communication between the public and the borough regarding redevelopment. She would like an opportunity for the general public to give feedback and future meetings with business owners, she said.
While a lot of mystery remains about how downtown Middletown will reinvent itself – and how it will be funded – Konek repeated his assurance that there will be movement.
“We are going to go through the design process and we are going to expedite the design process,” he said. “This process is going to go.”
Christmas Eve blackout strikes Middletown; Four police officers were exposed to high levels
of carbon monoxide
Four Middletown police officers were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide in the police department from a generator used to provide electricity during a power outage that knocked the lights out in the borough for four hours on Christmas Eve, authorities said.
Firefighters from the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department responded to a carbon monoxide alarm that went off in the basement of Borough Hall on Monday, Dec. 24 and found the officers complaining of eye irritation, a dry cough and headaches, said Ken Whitebread, fire chief.
“We had them come out of the building as soon as our units arrived,” Whitebread said. “We went into the police entrance, and our gas monitor equipment went into alarm status.”
Firefighters entering the building used breathing apparatus, and found high levels of carbon monoxide in the building.
“We found extremely dangerous levels in the basement, and high levels in the first and second floors of the building,” Whitebread said.
The fire department used fans to blow the carbon monoxide out, he said.
EMS personnel urged the officers to go to the hospital for medical treatment, but the officers decided to drive themselves instead of going by ambulance, Whitebread said.
Their condition is currently unknown.
Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications, confirmed four officers were hospitalized as a result of the incident. Courogen would not comment on the condition of the officers due to health information privacy regulations.
A problem with a generator used to provide power to the borough during the power outage appears to be the cause of the high levels of carbon monoxide in the building, Courogen said.
A bad piece of equipment in the generator caused an electric shortage and tripped three fuses, he added.
However, the borough is conducting an internal investigation into the cause and the police will be temporarily working out of the electric department offices until an expert examines the building.
“We’re trying to figure out how this happened when there were apparently steps that should have prevented this,” he said.
The power outage lasted about four hours, and a delay was caused by the need to backtrack from the tripped fuses to discover the actual source of the problem, Courogen said.
Electric department supervisor Greg Wilsbach oversaw the repair. Courogen would not comment on whether borough employees or contracted employees were used to make the repairs.
Firefighters were called to the scene again on Christmas morning – Tuesday, Dec. 25 – when Police Chief Mark Hovan and Ken Klinepeter, public works supervisor, heard the carbon monoxide alarm going off, said Whitebread.
Natural ventilation was used to air out the building at the point, said Whitebread.
“After we determined the hazard was over, then the building was available to used,” he said.
Calls to Mayor Robert Reid and Hovan were not returned.
Raiders split games at Hershey tournament
The Middletown girls’ basketball team shook off a loss to a strong Gettysburg team in the first game of Hershey’s Holiday Tournament to beat Penn Manor in the consolation game and claim third place.
The Blue Raiders (5-4) defeated Penn Manor, 54-38 on Friday, Dec. 28 at Hershey High School, with freshman Jalynn Burton-Jones scoring a season-high 32 points for Middletown, canning 12 field goals and 8 of 12 foul shots.
Jeyy Rivera, a sophomore, added 8 points, while Halle Marion, another sophomore, added 7. Jada Pettis scored 4 points and Sarah Crippen scored 3 for the Raiders.
Ilisha Collazo led the Rams (3-6) with 11 points.
The Raiders ran to a 26-15 lead at halftime, then put the game away with a strong third quarter, outscoring Penn Manor 16-7 to take a commanding 42-22 lead.
Middletown lost the opening game of the tournament, 61-32, to Gettysburg on Thursday, Dec. 27.
The Greyhounds’ Cami Boehner scored 28 points to lead Gettysburg (8-2) to victory.
Rivera led Middletown with 11 points, while Crippen scored 8 and Burton-Jones added 6.
• Weekly specials — domestic Swiss Cheese, $4.99 a pound. Deli-cooked ham, $2.99 a pound. Icelandic haddock, $6.29 a pound. Groff’s Meats, 33 N. Market St., Elizabethtown.
• Lean chopped chuck, $2.79 a pound. Karns link pork sausage, $1.99 a pound. Fresh Florida strawberries, $2.99 for 1 pound. Karns, Middletown.
• Seeking Blue Bird: Council votes to buy historic fire truck
• Police costs cut to balance 2013 budget
• Traffic stop reveals heroin worth $40,000