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New actor for Elks: Tattered Flag owners want to partner and reopen theater

ELKS TOUR WEBPress And Journal Photo by Dan Miller — Middletown residents look around the Elks Theatre on Thursday night during a tour of the structure as part of a meeting to get public input on its future.

 

Tattered Flag — the partnership converting the Elks Building in downtown Middletown into a combined brewery/distillery/brew pub — now also wants to partner with the nonprofit group Friends of the Elks Theatre to reopen the theater, which has been closed since April 2015.

That announcement came from Mike Dalton with the Friends group during a meeting held by Middletown Borough Council in the MCSO Building on Thursday, July 21, to get input from residents on what they want done with the theater.

What came through loud and clear is that residents want the Elks Theatre reopened, not just as a theater but as a multi-functioning venue that would also host concerts, comedians, plays and the like. 

No one spoke in support of Councilor Ian Reddinger’s proposal that the borough sell the Elks Theatre to the Friends group for $1 — an idea that the Friends group says it is not interested in pursuing.

Reddinger also previously suggested the best future use of the theater would be to be converted into luxury condominiums or retail stores by private investors. No one spoke in support of that idea either.

About 40 residents attended the meeting, which started with a brief tour of the theater which is just down the block from the MCSO on West Emaus Street. 

Several speakers noted that the Elks Theatre is the second oldest continuously operating movie theater in the United States, and for that reason alone should be preserved as a theater.

 

How can it be done?

So with the question of what people want to see done with the theater apparently settled, the issue remains how to make that happen.

Estimates of how much money will be needed to reopen the theater now range from the $370,000 proposal submitted to the borough by the Friends of the Elks group, to new estimates running close to $1.3 million that were presented to council during Thursday night’s meeting.

The Friends of the Elks proposal is actually more like $500,000, when the cost of redoing restrooms is added in. Friends of the Elks has proposed operating the theater and leasing it from the borough for 10 years. The group says the borough should continue to own the theater.

The Friends group is looking to the borough to invest the money to reopen the theater, although the group has pledged to assist with fundraising and seeking grants.

Tattered Flag partnering with the Friends group was one of several new possibilities for reopening the Elks Theatre that emerged during the meeting — although no one came forward with any big oversized checks or presented a definitive plan for how the money would be raised.

Tattered Flag has received a $1.5 million loan from the borough toward the brewery/distillery/brew pub, including $400,000 to purchase all of the Elks Building from the borough except for the Elks Theatre. The remaining $1.1 million is going toward converting the Elks Building space into the combined brewery/distillery/brew pub.

 

‘Out of the blue’

The offer from Tattered Flag to enter into a partnership came “out of the blue” within 24 hours of the theater meeting taking place, said Dalton.

Members of the Tattered Flag partnership could not attend the meeting, and details of the proposed arrangement were not presented.

But Dalton said Tattered Flag is interested in “teaming up” with Friends of the Elks to “co-operate” the theater. Tattered Flag is looking to the theater as a venue for live concerts and entertainment that could be done in conjunction with the brewery/distillery operation next door, Dalton said.

He read a statement from Tattered Flag partner Ben Ramsay saying that A.P. Williams, a construction company, could go through the theater and provide “the true costs” of what it will take to reopen the theater as a multifunctioning entertainment venue. A.P. Williams is the company doing the renovations in the rest of the Elks Building for the Tattered Flag project.

Another of the Tattered Flag partners, Pat Devlin, afterward told the Press And Journal that it would be “mutually beneficial” for Tattered Flag and Friends of the Elks to work together.

What happens to the theater “absolutely” impacts Tattered Flag, he said. 

“That building is attached to us. If it goes unused for long periods of time and ends up causing a problem for our building, that’s an issue obviously,” Devlin added. “We just want to see something good happen to it, however we can help and however we can be involved.”

But no decisions can be made until A.P. Williams does a walk through and can nail down “the real cost” of what it would take to reopen the theater, Devlin said. 

 

Former operator speaks

Council also heard a presentation from Jonathan Crist, an attorney living in Conewago Township who operated the Elks Theatre from February 1986 to October 2005.

Crist read about council holding the theater meeting, and reached out to Council President Ben Kapenstein, who invited Crist to submit a proposal.Crist offered to lease the theater from the borough and operate it, if the theater can be property restored. He estimated the job at $1.26 million, with construction costs totaling $840,000 and the rest for engineering and equipment. 

Crist and a partner own two downtown movie theaters in Pennsylvania; one the Roxy Theatre in Northampton near Allentown, and the Grand Theatre in East Greenville in Montgomery County.

Contrary to the view expressed a few weeks ago by Reddinger, a single-screen movie theater is still viable in today’s economy, Crist told the Press And Journal in a phone interview after the meeting. The key is booking films that suit your audience.

“We’re doing it in both places,” he said, referring to the Roxy and to the Grand Theatre. “We are running ‘Finding Dory’ three bucks a head in Northampton. We will put 6,000 people through there in a week.”

Crist said he’s not interested in buying the Elks Theatre and he’s not in a position to help the borough come up with the nearly $1.3 million to reopen the theater.

 

Getting the money

Grants are out there to cover most if not all the cost, but it could take years to come up with the money unless the borough is fortunate enough to get one grant to pay for the whole thing.

As for justifying tax dollars, money spent to reopen the Elks Theatre should be viewed in the context of a broader strategy.

“It’s never going to make any money,” Crist said of the theater alone. “You are trying to save the downtown. If you expect it to serve a profit — forget about it.”

The theaters in Northampton and in East Greenville are about all there is to attract people to those respective downtowns, Crist said. The prospects would seem better in Middletown, where the downtown already has Alfred’s Victorian, the Brownstone Cafe, and now Tattered Flag.

If council needed a jump-start to help raise money to reopen the theater, the best offer of the night came from Phil Bennett, a singer and entertainer who lives on Ann Street.

Bennett said he would give a free concert, with all the money raised going to the theater. 

Bennett then gave council and the audience a taste of what’s to come by delivering an on-the-spot a cappella rendition of “I Get Misty.” 

 

Passion project

Other speakers expressed a can-do attitude that anything is possible. 

“Obviously we have some passion in this room. Passion is what it takes,” said Chris Davis, who lives in the first block of North Union Street diagonally across from the Elks. “The borough and the community need to work together. Wouldn’t this be a great story if we could pull this off?”

“To me it’s obvious now. Everybody seems to be on the same page. They want the Elks Theatre,” Council President Ben Kapenstein said after the meeting. “Council seems to want it, the public seems to want it, now it’s about how we deliver it. … We need to find a way to protect the taxpayers as much as possible, and to make sure that every dollar that is spent is spent in a good way and that we are not over-spending and spending beyond our means.”

Taking on debt is one possible way for helping to pay for the Elks Theatre project, Kapenstein said. Since leasing the water and sewer systems to Suez in 2014, the borough remains debt free except for repaying a $1.5 million loan to Dauphin County for the streetscape, and the loan is being repaid not by tax dollars but through the borough’s liquid fuels allocation from the state, Kapenstein said.

Taking out debt means that the cost of reopening the theater would be borne not just by today’s residents but by “future generations,” he said.

Reddinger after the meeting acknowledged reopening the theater is what the town wants. But as much of the money as possible should be cobbled together through grants and fundraisers.

The borough as long as it owns the building is obligated to spend whatever is necessary to make sure that the building is safe and habitable for any future use, Reddinger said. Any tax dollars on the theater beyond that should be subject to results of a voter referendum, he added.

Council Vice President Damon Suglia said his position against using tax dollars to reopen the theater had softened in light of the overwhelming sentiment expressed during the meeting.

“But if we do have to spend tax dollars we have to find a way to supplement that” with alternative funding sources, Suglia said. 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 16:02

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Middletown Night Out keeps getting bigger as it aims to unite community

Residents will come together from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 2 for Middletown Night Out, an annual event that has blossomed in recent years as it attracts larger and larger crowds to celebrate community unity while encouraging a strong rapport between neighbors and police.

Middletown’s celebration at Hoffer Park joins the town with more than 16,000 communities in the United States that hold a National Night Out, an event that began in 1981 to allow the community to meet local police officers.RuxRux

All events are free. This year will feature bouncy houses and slides, facepainting, a clown on stilts and pony rides for kids. The Hershey’s Kissmobile will be on site, handing out candy. Other sponsors offering displays will include Zoo America, the Air National Guard and pet therapy providers. The Middletown Hummelstown Railroad, a short walk from Hoffer Park, will offer free rides.

Community groups will offer a variety of performances and displays, including local Boy Scouts, local Girl Scouts, Capital Area Extreme Cheerleading (formerly Raider Extreme) and Sharon’s School of Dance.

The highlight of Middletown Night Out for many attendees is the free food sponsored by the community’s restaurants, businesses and organizations. 

This year, Alfred’s Victorian and the Brownstone Cafe will both offer signature soups during the Night Out. The American Legion will serve more than 1,000 hamburgers and hot dogs, Prince Edwin’s Spring Creek Lodge will serve barbecue sliders and fries. 

Middletown’s police patrolman Gary Rux said he has more than 60 volunteers lined up, not including all the people attending on behalf of sponsoring organizations, local churches and businesses.  

 

Bigger and bigger

Rux has expanded the Middletown event to include more activities and to feature other emergency responders. This year includes Lower Swatara Police, Penn State Harrisburg Campus Police, Pennsylvania State Police and the Dauphin County sheriff. 

“I had a different vision,” said Rux, who took over the event from patrolman Mark Laudenslager four years ago. Rux reached out and got more of the community involved, which has resulted in crowds topping 3,000 people, compared with the crowds of around 500 about 10 years ago. 

Rux called Laudenslager “instrumental” in seeing the event through every year, although he has other duties that require a lot of his time.

Despite several stories of communities in conflict with police that have received a lot of news coverage this year, Rux said Middletown’s bonds with the police run deep. 

“It’s always been a community giving their all for the police,” he said. “Everyone has been willing to volunteer. I like to think they do it for their community.”

Rux said Middletown’s officers are approachable, and events like this allow people from the community “to get to know them a little better.” 

 

Dauphin County represented

This year, Middletown and Penn State Harrisburg Campus police will team up to present an interactive simulation of driving under the influence. 

The Dauphin County Sheriff’s Office will be represented by one unit, including a police dog. 

A State Police captain and trooper will introduce the community to the workings of Pennsylvania State Police Tactical Mounted Unit, in which troopers on horses perform police duties.

One unit will represent Lower Swatara Twp. Police, who are a familiar sight in Middletown because the departments support each other through mutual aid agreements.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 July 2016 14:50

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Resurfacing 322 ramp for Hummelstown/Middletown

Eastbound off-ramp closed Sunday from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. Monday

Motorists traveling on US 322 in Derry Twp. have been alerted by PennDOT of work to begin Sunday, May 15.

Hempt Brothers, contractor for the project will eastbound U.S. 322 off-ramp for Hummelstown/Middletown from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. the following morning. Milling and resurfacing work will be undertaken, weather permitting.

The work is part of an ongoing $13 million construction project that began May 8 to repair and resurface a seven mile section of US 322 between the Eisenhower Interchange in Swatara Twp. and the Hershey interchange with Route 39 and US 422 in Derry Twp.

The contract includes roadway base repair, milling and resurfacing the existing roadway and shoulders with new asphalt. On the concrete portions of the project, the contractor will make concrete repairs and apply a thin friction course on the pavement. The project also includes guiderail replacement, minor drainage improvements, and curb ramp improvements associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Work under this construction contract is scheduled to be completed next summer.
PennDOT advises travelers that they may continue to encounter shifting traffic patterns and/or single-lane traffic restrictions through the work zone on weeknights from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Some sections of US 322 average more than 21,000 vehicles traveled daily.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 May 2016 14:03

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PA Attorney General wants to help if you think you're getting ripped off

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s office cautioned both Pennsylvania consumers and businesses to be aware of the potential for price gouging following the State of Emergency declaration made by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Price gouging restrictions prohibit anyone involved in the sale or distribution of consumer goods or services from "unconscionably excessive" increases above average prices during the emergency and for 30 days after its conclusion.

The state's Price Gouging Act gives the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection the authority to investigate price gouging complaints and allows for penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, along with restitution and injunctive relief.

The restrictions required by the act not only apply to businesses involved in direct consumer sales, but also to manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers and distributors of consumer products and services.

Attorney General Kane also advised consumers to follow the Public Utility Commission's tips for residents during power outages, including calling utility companies instead of 9-1-1 if power is lost. Commonwealth residents also are encouraged to limit travel during power outages involving downed power lines.

Consumers can report potential price gouging by calling the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection helpline at 800-441-2555 or by filing a consumer complaint online.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 22 January 2016 11:30

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Good and not so good news about Dauphin Co.'s 2016 budget

 

Property taxes held for record 11th year but state funding shortfalls could force tax increase in 2017, commissioners warns

The good news? Dauphin Co. Commissioners passed a $243 million budget for 2016 that holds the line on taxes for an 11th year straight. 

The not-so-good news? Commissioners warned potential cuts in state funding could jeopardize that record next year.

 “The state currently owes Dauphin Co. almost $30 million in human services funding’” said commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “This is forcing us to seek a $20 million tax anticipation note to keep cash flow going until we start getting local tax revenue in mid-February.

 “But we’ll have a larger problem if some of the significant cuts to human services funding that are being discussed makes it into the final state budget,. If we see a $6 million cut in Children and Youth funding, that equals a half-mill of taxes.’’

 Haste, who serves as the 2015 County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania’s (CCAP) board chairman, said the organization is committed to working with lawmakers to ensure human services funding isn’t held hostage in future budget impasses.

 “In Dauphin County, we’re fortunate that our careful budgeting allowed us to cover human services funding thus far without borrowing,’’ Haste said. “But other counties have been forced to cut back on services and borrow. Luzerne County had its bond rating downgraded due in large part to the deficit created by the state withholding $20 million in funding.’’

Commissioner Mike Pries stressed if the county is forced to raise taxes, it won’t be a decision the board makes lightly.

 “This board weighs the potential impact to the taxpayer in every decision we make,” Pries said. “We’ve managed to keep the lid on property taxes for 11 years, but it’s a record we can continue only if the state doesn’t slash funding for vital services.’’ 

Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III echoed his fellow commissioner’s concerns, noting the state is causing “significant uncertainty’’ about the county’s budget next year. 

“State lawmakers are considering pushing back $172 million counties are owed in children and youth funding into the next fiscal year to help balance the budget,’’ Hartwick said. “Counties are seeing record numbers of child abuse reports in the wake of new child protection laws. If the state doesn’t adequately fund these services, it’s local taxpayers that are forced to make up the difference.’’

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 December 2015 16:29

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