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Elks transfer is completed; repairs are next, leaders say

closingphoto9 24 14Press and Journal Photo by Dan Miller -- Attending the real-estate closing for the Elks Building are, from left, Christopher McNamara, Middletown Borough Council president; Gordon Einhorn, vice president of GMEDC; and Salvatore Bauccio, solicitor for the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.


The historic Elks Building in downtown Middletown is now owned by the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.


Representatives of the authority and Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp., its previous owner, met Thursday, Sept. 18, in a seventh-floor conference room at the Harrisburg office of McNees Wallace & Nurick – the law firm that is solicitor to the borough and the authority – to transfer ownership of the Elks Building to the authority.


The authority’s acquisition of the Elks Building was a cashless transfer where the authority assumed responsibility for a $500,000 mortgage on the building that 

GMEDC owed to the borough, said Matt Tunnell, authority chairman.


The authority, with the separate approval of Middletown Borough Council, drew down $500,000 from a $3 million line of credit through PNC Bank to pay off the mortgage.


That $500,000 will go toward a revolving loan and grant fund to help pay for economic development projects in Middletown. The fund already has $579,000, so adding the additional $500,000 will make for roughly $1.07 million available to support development projects.


Tunnell said the authority plans to repay the $500,000 to the bank from proceeds the borough expects to soon receive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency – proceeds that would reimburse the borough for money that was spent tied to the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.


The authority’s purchase of the Elks Building puts on a fast track plans to shore up the building physically, including rehabilitation of the structure.


The ICDA has approved a $145,000 proposal from Lobar Construction Services of York to replace the roof over all parts of the building except the Elks Theatre, a long-operating movie theater. The theater roof has already been replaced. The roof project is to be paid for with proceeds from the economic development fund.


Tunnell said the hope is that Lobar can start the roof work in the first week of October, and that the roof project can be done by the end of October.


The authority still hopes to close the Elks Theatre for a period sometime this fall to complete repairs to the theater ceiling and install digital conversion equipment. Tunnell said fall is a traditionally slow period for theaters, but that the Elks must be able to reopen by Thanksgiving in time for the busy holiday season.


Tunnell said the authority does not yet have a final estimate for the theater ceiling work, but that this money also would come from the economic development fund.


The digital conversion is expected to cost at least $50,000. The conversion may not be eligible for money from the economic development fund, so another source to pay for the project may have to be identified, Tunnell said.


Tunnell said that as part of the closing the authority signed a month-to-month agreement for GMEDC to continue operating the theater.


As part of the real estate closing, the authority paid about $9,000 in property taxes on the Elks Building that Tunnell said had become delinquent under GMEDC. The money was disbursed to the borough, Middletown Area School District and Dauphin County.


Because the authority is a government agency, the Elks Building will be taken off the property tax rolls for as long as the authority owns it, Tunnel said. If the building starts “making money” while owned by the authority, the authority might discuss making a payment in lieu of taxes to the borough, he said.


However, speaking as one authority member, Tunnell emphasized that it is not the authority’s intent to own the Elks Building in the long term. The goal is to stabilize the building physically and financially and put it back on the private market and on the tax rolls.


“The ultimate goal is to transfer it to a private developer,” Tunnell said. “From my perspective, the ICDA really serves as an intermediary in being able to purchase properties and bring resources to the table, and then return them back” to the tax rolls, he said.


“I do not perceive a long-term vision where the ICDA becomes the dominant owner of real estate in the downtown,’’ Tunnell said. “That is not our role. Our role is to get these distressed properties to a point where they are marketable.”


The authority is also “working diligently” with two existing commercial tenants – a flower and gift shop and an antiques and collectibles shop – to address ongoing “issues,” Tunnell said.


“Those will be resolved to make sure that all landlord responsibilities are taken care of and addressed, and to make sure the building is managed in a way that the tenants are successful,” he said.


During the closing, GMEDC Vice Chairman Gordon Einhorn said that Paul Bear, owner of a third business that was in the Elks Building – The Turquoise Bear Trading Post – left months ago and has not returned.


The flower shop, Alma’s House of Flowers and Gifts, is by far the business that has been in the Elks the longest – 36 years, according to owner Kathy Suhr. Suhr has been with Alma’s for 21 years, the last 15 as owner.


The borough and the authority’s intention to buy the Elks was hardly a secret. It has been in the works for a long time.


To Suhr, the borough sent a clear signal as to its future vision for the building in the June edition of the borough newsletter, Middletown Matters. And that vision did not appear to include Alma’s.


Instead, a Photoshop-like artist’s depiction in the newsletter showed a Penn State Harrisburg Barnes & Noble bookstore in the space that currently houses Alma’s.


“It was very disheartening to open up the town newsletter and to see my building with another name on it. That was very hurtful,” Suhr said.


But Don Holtzman, senior director of student services and special projects at Penn State Harrisburg, told the Press And Journal that he has no knowledge of any intention by Barnes & Noble to locate a bookstore in the Elks Building.


The plan all along has been for a new Barnes & Noble bookstore to be part of the Student Enrichment Center on campus that Penn State hopes to build by the fall of 2016.


Barnes & Noble has not responded to inquiries by the Press And Journal.


Now that the authority owns the Elks, Suhr said she can’t help but feel “very anxious” about what that will mean for the building, and for her.


Suhr said she supported GMEDC “100 percent.” She does not fault the organization for transferring the building to the authority.


“The GMEDC did what they had to do,” Suhr said. “There was a lack of support, and it’s understandable that they turned it over.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 20:23

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Lease of water, sewer systems topic of public meeting

Whether Middletown leases its water and sewer systems to an outside party for 50 years – and who that party could be – could be decided during a special meeting between Middletown Borough Council and the Middletown Borough Authority at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29 in the MCSO Building at 60 W. Emaus St.




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Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:59

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Lower Swatara approves subdivision plan that could lead to expanded PSU-Harrisburg campus


middlehome9 24 14Press And Journal Photo by Jim Lewis -- The Middletown Home plans to sell about 60 vacant acres to neighboring Penn State Harrisburg.


Lower Swatara Twp. commissioners have approved a subdivision of land at the Middletown Home that allows the home to sell about 60 vacant acres to Penn State Harrisburg.


Commissioners unanimously approved the subdivision during a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 17. The land abuts University Drive on the university’s campus.




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Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:57

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A HOLD ON STATE FUNDS: Borough, GMEDC told to work together to end freeze, state reps say

middletownpic9 17 14

A hold on the disbursal of state grant money to Middletown remains in effect until the borough submits a completed audit covering the use of grant fund proceeds by the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. from 2008 to 2010, authorities say.


State Rep. John Payne, whose office represents most of Middletown, told the Press And Journal that the hold impacts hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a $250,000 grant to help the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department pay off the new addition to the fire house on Adelia Street.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:40

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Middletown police officer resigns

Middletown Borough Council voted 8-0 to accept the resignation of police Officer Andrew Crone during a meeting on Monday, Sept. 15.


Council’s vote followed a 50-minute closed-door session and came after Mayor James H. Curry III read a resignation letter from Crone that had been submitted earlier Monday to acting Chief Sgt. James Bennett.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:28

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