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How about a new Elks Theatre deadline? April 30 sounds right: Editorial

Posted 1/30/18

The more time that passes, the more we wonder about the future of the Elks Theatre.

It’s coming up on three years since it closed, and there seems to be a lack of urgency about what should …

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How about a new Elks Theatre deadline? April 30 sounds right: Editorial

Posted

The more time that passes, the more we wonder about the future of the Elks Theatre.

It’s coming up on three years since it closed, and there seems to be a lack of urgency about what should happen next.

To recap: The Friends of The Elks Theatre is the nonprofit group that wants to acquire the 107-year-old theater from the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority for $1 to turn the historic movie house into a performing arts center.

The authority acquired the Elks Building from the now-defunct Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. in September 2014. The Friends group grew out of the GMEDC, which formerly owned the Elks Building and which had operated the theater for several years.

Friends’ spokesman and board of directors member Gordon Einhorn said he believes that the Friends group has provided the authority with all the information that the authority had requested to make a decision about the $1 sale.

Middletown Borough Council member Ian Reddinger, the authority chairman, says he has a lot of unanswered questions regarding Friends’ plans for the future of the theater.

This does not sound like two bodies that are on the same page. They haven’t even met formally since October.

The only time the issue seems to come up is when we at the Press & Journal ask about it.

We realize the authority was busy selling the McNair House, and are happy that is now in private hands, despite the loss at which it was sold.

We know that selling such a structure as the Elks Theatre isn’t easy. But come on, folks. It’s past time for something to happen.

We aren’t sure which side is dragging its feet more, but it’s long past the time for a decision to be made.

The borough itself has no plans to do anything with the theater to reopen it.

A few dates to remember: The authority since August 2015 has had a proposal from the Friends group to transform the theater into a performing arts center. In March 2017, the Friends group submitted a letter of intent to the authority, confirming its acceptance of the authority’s offer to transfer the theater for $1.

The Friends letter stated a desire to complete the transfer on or before Dec. 31, 2017. Mayor James H. Curry III at the time said he wanted it done before then.

Still, nothing. There have been no talks. We are likely no closer to a resolution than we were when Reddinger suggested in June 2016 that it makes more sense for an outside investor to come in and transform the theater into luxury condominiums, retail storefronts, or a combination of the two. While that statement seemed extreme, we urged residents to consider it as a possibility then and still think it might be the best option now. It certainly could be sold for more than $1.

The authority has a current appraisal for the theater, one that was done by the same real estate appraiser who appraised the McNair House in 2017 in preparation for its sale. The problem is, we don’t know what is in that appraisal, and neither do the residents of Middletown. The authority has denied a Right-to-Know request that was filed by the Press & Journal for the appraisal, saying that contents of real estate appraisals are not required to be provided.

The Dec. 31, 2017 deadline didn’t seem to carry much weight. However, we don’t believe it is too much for the two sides to establish a final, draw-a-line-in-the-sand deadline. Let’s say April 30, 2018. That’s almost exactly three years from the date that the theater closed its doors.

If both sides can’t work out a deal by then, then it goes on the market.

We have supported the sale to the Friends group for $1 in the past. But in our view, time is running out to get a deal done. If it goes on the market, we would be curious to see who might step up to buy it.

April 30. What do you say?