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West Emaus upgrade well worth the money: Editorial

Posted 11/26/19

About $700,000 that Middletown Borough Council wants to use for improvements on West Emaus Street would be money well-spent.

A state grant would help fund upgrades for lighting, curbs and …

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West Emaus upgrade well worth the money: Editorial

Posted

About $700,000 that Middletown Borough Council wants to use for improvements on West Emaus Street would be money well-spent.

A state grant would help fund upgrades for lighting, curbs and sidewalks, and trees as part of extending West Emaus to West Main Street.

The great news is that the borough has applied for $492,940 in grant funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The borough must provide a 30 percent match of its own funds, equal to $211,260.

That’s not an insignificant amount, but the return on the investment would be worth it.

Extending West Emaus to West Main — and, in a way, to Penn State Harrisburg — is included in the plan to build the new Amtrak train station along West Main Street. The new station is scheduled to open in 2021 or 2022, depending on when Amtrak finishes moving its railroad tracks, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Once completed, there will be a straight shot for both Penn State students on foot and drivers coming in from the west.

Bringing West Emaus in line with the streetscape improvements from several years ago along Union Street will be a great move for the borough. Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works, which sits at the corner of Union and Emaus streets, brings in many out-of-towners. If Emaus also is upgraded, the borough will leave an even better lasting impression on those visitors.

We also like one change that would be made to the previous streetscape effort, however. The crosswalks would not have pavers in the street along Emaus. The pavers have become a borough maintenance headache, especially at the Union and Emaus intersection, because they get pulled out of the ground too easily. You can clearly see that at the corner of Union and Emaus.

But no discussion of West Emaus Street would be complete without mentioning the Elks Theatre.

We were disappointed to hear that the most recent effort by the borough’s Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, which owns the theater, fell through.

The ICDA Sept. 27 had voted to accept an offer from Elk Center LLC to purchase the 108-year old theater from the authority for $200,000, minus the authority providing Elk Center LLC with a $15,000 credit for the theater not being connected to public water and sewer lines.

After the potential owner did its “due diligence,” however, it pulled out.

“From what I believe, they (Elk Center LLC) had financing issues. I believe they were having issues securing financing,” said Ian Reddinger, chairman of the ICDA.

Without a tenant for the theater, West Emaus can never fulfill its full potential.

The Friends of the Elks Theatre, a nonprofit group, previously had sought to acquire the theater from the authority for $1. Is now the time to get that deal done?

We are not against a developer buying the theater and using it for something other than its historic use. It needs to be used in some way, and preferably put back on the borough tax rolls.

The area around West Emaus and Union streets looks so much better than it did five years ago. The streetscape project, Tattered Flag, improvements at the former Bunky’s, efforts at the McNair House, the repurposing of the former thrift store into the Vintage Vault Gallery … the cumulative effect is wonderful.

We will keep an eye on the West Emaus grant application, and hope that PennDOT agrees with us that the money would have a great impact on the borough.