Written by Dan Miller
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has identified a prospective private developer for the new Middletown train station.
A development team known as Keystone Connections was the sole entity to respond to a request that was issued in September by PennDOT seeking firms interested in getting the public-private partnership contract for the new station, Michael Bonini told the Press And Journal on Friday, Jan. 27. Bonini is director of the public-private partnership (P3) office under PennDOT.
Keystone Connections is a team consisting of Cedarwood Development Inc.; Star America Capital Advisor LLC; Raudenbush Engineering Inc., JEM Group LLC, U.S. Facilities Inc., and Walker Parking Consultants/Engineers Inc., PennDOT announced in a press release on Jan. 27.
The firm that gets the P3 contract will be key to development of the new station to be built along West Main Street, Toby Fauver, PennDOT’s deputy secretary for multimodal transportation, has told the Press And Journal.
For example, the developer chosen by PennDOT will be responsible for what kind of commercial development gets done at the station, Fauver said. That could include anything from retail establishments to a hotel, Fauver told the Press and Journal during a visit to the train station site in late 2016.
The development entity would also be responsible for maintenance of the train station property and any related commercial establishments upon the site going forward.
Much still remains to be done before a decision can be made to award the contract to Keystone Connections, Bonini said.
Soon, PennDOT will issue for comment a draft Request for Proposal to Keystone Connections which, when finalized, will establish the criteria for Keystone’s proposal to develop, design, build, finance, operate and maintain parking facilities that provide a minimum of 400 parking spaces for transportation use as well as to undertake commercial development upon the Middletown train station site, PennDOT said in a news release.
The Middletown train station project also includes extending Emaus Street to West Main Street, and building a pedestrian bridge over West Main Street — Route 230 — to connect the train station to the Penn State Harrisburg campus.
PennDOT expects to finalize the Request for Proposal to Keystone Connections over the next few months, with a goal of receiving and reviewing a detailed proposal from Keystone Connections later in 2017.
Ultimately, the hope is that a process of negotiation between PennDOT and Keystone Connections regarding development of the train station will be successful, and that PennDOT can award the contract to Keystone Connections, Bonini said.
At this point “these guys (Keystone Connections) are competing against themselves” since they are the only development entity that responded to the invitation in September, Bonini added.
However, if negotiations are not successful PennDOT would be able to terminate discussions with Keystone Connections. But that would mean essentially starting over when it comes to finding a prospective private developer, which would add new delays for the Middletown train station project.
“We’re hopeful” that PennDOT can ultimately award the contract to Keystone Connections, Bonini noted.
As far as the overall timetable for the new train station goes, site preparation under a $2.6 million contract is underway and expected to be done in May 2017.
Norfolk Southern Railway is expected to start an estimated $6.5 million in track work later in 2017. Track work by AMTRAK, estimated to cost about $4.3 million, is to start late in 2018.
Work on the new train station and platform is expected to start in late 2018 and will cost an estimated $24.4 million.
The new station is expected to open sometime in 2020 or early 2021, Fauver has told the Press And Journal.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2017 12:15
Written by Dan Miller
Three of the four members of Middletown Borough Council whose seats are up in 2017 are running for re-election, including incumbent President Ben Kapenstein.
Dawn Knull and Ian Reddinger also plan to run again this year.
The fourth incumbent, Anne Einhorn, is not running again, guaranteeing at least one new face on the seven-member council come January 2018.
Mayor James H. Curry III is also up for re-election in 2017. Curry in a text message to the Press And Journal on Jan. 29 said that “I have not made a decision” regarding whether to run again.
On a related note, 2017 will be the first year that all councilors whose seats are up are to be chosen by voters all over the borough on an “at-large” basis.
Council in 2016 voted to do away with the system by which each councilor was elected only by voters in his or her ward. Middletown’s three wards are still in place, but only for the purpose of determining the polling location where borough residents are to vote.
The size of council was also reduced — from nine members including three from each ward — to seven members to all be elected borough-wide from now on.
Kapenstein was first elected to council to a four-year term in 2013. He chaired council’s finance committee under formal Council President Chris McNamara, and was then elevated to president in January 2016.
Kapenstein announced his intentions in a statement provided to the Press And Journal on Monday, Jan. 30.
“I am proud of the progress my colleagues and I have made during my first term on council and would like to continue that positive trajectory with an eye towards the future,” Kapenstein wrote. “In the past year, we have come together and taken many very important steps to ensure a brighter future. We have done things the right way which is not always the easy way.”
Kapenstein referred to the leadership vacuum that the new council found itself in in January, following the departure in December 2015 of key staff members including the borough manager, public works director, borough secretary, and the full-time codes and zoning officer.
“When hiring an almost entirely new administrative leadership team, we ran an open and transparent process. That process has paid off and we currently have a very strong team in place that cares about our town and not just getting a paycheck. That’s important,” Kapenstein said. “In my career serving as financial advisor to various municipalities across Pennsylvania, I have learned that cities and towns that have leaders who genuinely care about the community they serve are usually much better off. We have that here in Middletown and it’s something that I’m extremely proud of.”
“While we have had some dark times in our past, our future is bright,” Kapenstein said. “The foundation for success has been laid and if you provide me with the honor of serving you for another four years, I am confident that we can build on that foundation and truly achieve great things.”
Einhorn announced in a post on her Facebook page on Monday, Jan. 30, that she would not run for re-election. Einhorn is in the last year of her first four-year term on council, having been elected in 2013.
Einhorn did not say why she is not running. Her post reads as follows:
“After much thought and consideration, I am making a formal announcement that I will not be seeking re-election to Borough Council. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the people of our community. I hope I have served you well. I have done my best to always follow my conscience, listen to my constituents, and act in the best interests of our town. I will continue to do so during my last eleven months in office. I will continue always to be active in this community and to fight for and work towards the betterment of my town, my neighbors, my schools, and my community. Thank you all for the opportunity to serve you.”
Contacted afterward for more comment by the Press And Journal, Einhorn added that “I feel that I am at a point where I can probably accomplish more as a private citizen than as a public official.”
Knull, elected from the First Ward to a two-year term in 2015, told the Press And Journal she is running again.
“I am not done with what I started,” Knull said in an emailed statement. Knull also serves on the Middletown Industrial and Commercial Development Authority, along with Curry and Reddinger, who chairs the authority.
Reddinger also plans to run for what would be his first full four-year term. Council in May 2016 appointed Reddinger to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Greg Wilsbach, who had been elected in 2015.
Wilsbach had resigned to apply for a job as Middletown’s new public works director. Council hired Wilsbach for that position in June 2016.
“The body we have (council) is moving in a good direction. We have a good team,” Reddinger said. “I would like to get at least another term to see some more projects through” such as the Elks Theatre, which is owned by the authority.
Reddinger added that he would also like the experience of running a campaign for election, because in being appointed he did not have the opportunity to do that.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2017 12:12
Written by Dan Miller
The limbo that surrounds Harborton Place mobile home park in Middletown is going to stick around for a few more months.
Harborton Place was on the list for a Dauphin County sheriff's sale on Jan. 19, but the sale has again been pushed back to March 2.
Harborton Place has been in mortgage foreclosure proceedings since 2012. The amount that Harborton Place owes to Wells Fargo bank is just less than $5.3 million.
In the meantime, residents of the trailer park no longer have to worry about being moved out against their will by the state buying the property.
Middletown Borough Council on Jan. 3 voted to reject the buyout offer from the Department of Community and Economic Development, citing how much revenue the borough would lose from the state’s plan to get rid of the development and turn the flood-prone property into open space.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 13:12
Written by Jason Maddux
By Phyllis Zimmerman
For the Press And Journal
and Jason Maddux
Expect a big change in the Harrisburg International Airport skyline in the upcoming year thanks to the approved construction of a new four-story hotel on airport property.
The Lower Swatara Township commissioners on Wednesday, Jan. 18, unanimously approved a final land development plan for a Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel that will be built on the site of a vacant parking lot on HIA’s South Terminal Drive. Township planning commission members recommended the plan for approval on Dec. 22.
The four-story structure with a base footprint of 17,400 square feet is designed to have a total of 123 guest rooms, according to project manager Joshua Hoffman, of Snyder Secary & Associates LLC of Harrisburg. It will have a pedestrian walkway connecting it to the terminal.
Hotel construction is expected to begin in late spring/early summer of this year and last for about a year.
The hotel’s developer, State College-based Shaner Corp., will lease the site from the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which owns the property, Hoffman said.
Scott Miller, HIA spokesman, told the Press And Journal on Friday that the lease term for the 2.73 acres is for 29 years, 11 months, and the rent is $49,140 a year.
“We’re excited about it,” Miller said. “It’s long been in the plans,” but the ebb and flow of the airline industry and the financial crunch of 2008 slowed the process.
Shaner is the “right partner,” Miller said.
Plato Ghinos, president of Shaner Group, told the Press And Journal on Friday that coming to the airport is a natural expansion for his company.
Shaner is a developer, operator and franchisee of hotels. It has about 50 nationwide and in several other countries, including Italy and the Bahamas. In this area, it has Courtyard Harrisburg West in Mechanicsburg and a Courtyard in Shippensburg, and will open a Courtyard by Marriott on Chocolate Avenue in Hershey next May, Ghinos said.
“Being the state capital, we feel the passenger numbers will remain strong and only increase. We feel there is no comparable lodging property nearby,” he said.
Fairfield Inn & Suites will have meeting space and a small bar area, he said.
Ghinos cited Penn State Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania Lottery and Three Mile Island as driving corporate demand for such a hotel with meeting space.
“The proximity to Hershey will also be a plus, especially during big athletic events and tournaments,” he said.
Ghinos said he is not worried about the Comfort Inn & Suites planned for the Linden Centre, formerly called Jamesway Plaza, just across Route 230 from the airport.
“We are right at the terminal. The entire concept and brand is kind of the higher end. From a passenger point of view, the Marriott brand is very strong. It’s a whole different market, a whole different clientele. It’s going to be a high-end lodging experience for someone going in and out of the airport. Five steps, you’re at the gate. It makes a lot of sense,” he said.
He said the 1.2 million passengers a year at HIA makes it attractive.
“It’s a surprisingly high number of passengers going through that airport,” he said.
Miller said having a hotel on site is one more amenity that makes HIA attractive for passengers, who often drive from as far away as Williamsport and State College and need a place to stay.
“It makes us more of a destination for people in the region, whether they are arriving or departing,” he said.
He also mentioned Penn State Harrisburg, as well as the National Guard location at HIA, as entities that require hotel rooms and occasionally meeting space.
Because the project will be in an old parking lot, Miller said it will have minimal impact on passengers. Employees were using the parking lot, but they will park elsewhere.
He said it will definitely change the landscape of the airport.
“Every person driving by will notice it,” he said.
Township commissioners also unanimously approved two waivers associated with the plan for which township engineer Erin Latavic stated that she had “no objections.” Commissioners waived requirements for a preliminary land development plan and underground storm water drainage specifications because the hotel plan is expected to reduce the existing area’s impervious surface by 24 percent, Hoffman said.
The hotel will provide 30 to 45 jobs, Ghinos said.
Select Medical hangar
Also on Jan. 18, township commissioners approved a final land development project for Select Medical Corp. on HIA property. Select Medical, of Mechanicsburg, is building a new 31,500-square-foot hangar for the company’s private planes at 1 Terminal Drive.
The commissioners also approved the developer’s request to waive a preliminary plan for the project, as well as several waivers involving tract boundaries and other minor issues.
The Select Medical plan and waivers were approved by the board in 4-0 votes. Commissioner Todd Truntz abstained from the votes due to “a conflict of interest,” he said.
Miller said the company is flying longer distances and needs a new hangar for its planes.
“You like to see tenants who are expanding and doing better,” he said.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 18:22
Written by Phyllis Zimmerman
Former township manager Ron Paul questioned Lower Swatara Township’s plans to convert the Shireman Farm tract at the southeast corner of Longview Drive and Ebenezer Road into a municipal park during a public comment period at the Jan. 18 commissioners meeting.
“I’m just curious. When did we make the decision to have this property?” Paul asked.
“The grant money’s there, but there’s been no land acquisition,” township solicitor Peter Henninger responded.
On Dec. 21, township officials announced that Lower Swatara was awarded a 50-50 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to convert the 32-acre parcel into a municipal park with a softball field, walking trail and picnic areas. The township and DCNR each plan to contribute $187,000 toward the property’s future purchase, assistant township manager/public safety director Frank Williamson said on Jan. 19.
Paul also questioned township officials about the status of an 11-acre land parcel the township owns at the east end of Fulling Mill Road, stating that the township has “other options” beside the Shireman Farm tract for recreational use.
Erin Latavic said after the meeting that officials consider the Fulling Mill Road tract more of a “nature area” than a municipal park. The area is considered a flood plain due to its proximity to the Swatara Creek and is located within a conservation zone.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 18:25