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Middletown's Christmas tree locale will remain at kierch, maybe for long term

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 6/26/19

The lawsuit that led to Middletown’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony being moved is over, but the event will stay where it is, at least for 2019.

The borough had held the Christmas …

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Middletown's Christmas tree locale will remain at kierch, maybe for long term

Posted

The lawsuit that led to Middletown’s annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony being moved is over, but the event will stay where it is, at least for 2019.

The borough had held the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on the lawn in front of the McNair House at the corner of Union and Emaus streets in both 2016 and 2017.

But in light of the new owners of the McNair House, Adam and Virginia Germak, filing a lawsuit in 2018, Mayor James H. Curry III had suggested the borough move the tree-lighting ceremony for 2018, and council agreed.

“The lawsuit didn’t have anything to do with the Christmas tree,” Curry told the Press & Journal in a June 14 phone interview.

But “as an attorney, I did not believe putting it (the tree) back passed the common-sense test. A 30-some-foot tree on property owned by the individuals suing the ICDA wasn’t a good idea.”

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RELATED STORY: Despite lawsuit loss, Germaks say they don’t regret McNair House purchase

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Curry arranged for the tree-lighting ceremony to be moved to in front of the historic St. Peter’s Kierch at North Union and West High streets for 2018.

The reaction to the move was “overwhelmingly positive,” Curry said. More people attended the tree lighting at St. Peter’s Kierch than when it had been held downtown the previous two years — despite it raining all day.

With that success fresh in mind, council at Curry’s urging Dec. 4 voted to again hold the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in front of the historic church in 2019.

The lawsuit brought by the Germaks being dismissed in the borough’s favor four months later doesn’t change that, Curry told the Press & Journal. Furthermore, he believes most residents prefer the new location.

“To this day I still have people stopping me and asking me, ‘Will it be at the kierch this year?’ They say, ‘Thank God, because we love it there,’” the mayor said. “As long as I’m mayor I will never recommend” moving the ceremony back to in front of the McNair House.

After the lawsuit ended, the Germaks told the Press & Journal they never objected to the tree being on their property — even while jousting with the ICDA in court.

“We want it here,” Virginia said of the tree. “All we’ve asked is to get a signed addendum that is per the deed, and an insurance policy” protecting the Germaks from liability over the tree and the ceremony being on their property.

“We’ve been waiting on the ICDA since December 2017 for an easement agreement regarding the holiday decorations on our property, so the ball has been in their court since December 2017 and they have not acted on it,”  Adam Germak said.

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RELATED STORY: Couple loses McNair House lawsuit; Germaks claim ‘misrepresentation’ in borough bid process

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Virginia said the couple’s two young children were “devastated” when they learned the tree would not be in their front yard last Christmas.

They say that social media posts blaming them for the tree  being moved were unfair, and had unpleasant repercussions.

“We were called the Grinch on Facebook,” Virginia said.

She said the Germaks had bought the property with the understanding that the Christmas tree would be part of the deal.

Virginia was “ecstatic” over a 40-foot tall Christmas tree being in their front yard every year, Adam said.

ICDA Chairman Ian Reddinger — a borough councilor — said the tree-lighting ceremony would have been held at the McNair House in 2018 if not for the Germaks filing their lawsuit.

Reddinger said the event had been a success at the McNair House in 2016 and in 2017.

The borough had no reason to look for a new location, but after the lawsuit was filed, council and the ICDA felt that holding the tree-lighting ceremony at the McNair House posed too great a potential risk to the borough and to taxpayers.

“We were being sued by the Germaks in what I thought was a ridiculous lawsuit to begin with,” Reddinger said. “We couldn’t take the chance of someone saying, ‘We tripped.’ I didn’t want to go out of my way and invite another lawsuit” costing more borough tax dollars to defend.

To Reddinger, the true victims of the lawsuit are taxpayers and the downtown businesses that “miss out” from the tree-lighting ceremony no longer being held at the McNair property.

While he said he prefers the McNair location, Reddinger voted to hold the event at the kierch again in 2019, and said he will continue to vote for the  ceremony being held at the kierch.

“I fear that there could be another issue, and I don’t want to do that to the taxpayers,” Reddinger said.