A Pennsylvania borough council has voted to use its powers of eminent domain to take a theater and an adjacent property for future public use, escalating its disagreement with the theater owner.

By a 7-2 vote, the Middletown Borough Council agreed to acquire the theater building in the borough’s downtown area, even though the owner is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to make improvements. The borough council wants to turn the theater site into a performing arts center, teaming with a local university to stage events. The borough secretary said the council had grown weary of waiting for the property owner to rehab the theater site. The current owner, an economic development corporation, is attempting to raise money to fund a new marquee and a digital projection system for the theater.

Those efforts are too little and too late for the borough council, however. The council has accused the corporation of wasting grant funds it has been awarded for a variety of projects, doubts its ability to repay the money when it comes due and wonders about its priorities for projects in the theater.

The corporation received a $500,000 grant to put the theater and has replaced the roof and the heating and air systems, according to a representative of the ownership corporation. The secretary of the borough council, however, said the corporation’s efforts have failed, especially since there are repairs that need to be made but the owners have made a marquee the priority. The official with the ownership group disputed that contention.

The vice president of the council said it was time for the two sides to part ways over a lack of communication. The owner, however, said the borough council never communicated its desire to take the building by eminent domain.

The ownership group intends to continue its efforts. Since finalizing an acquisition through eminent domain can take a long time, the ownership group members believe their efforts can only contribute to positive developments at the site.

Source: Press And Journal, “Council votes to take Elks, Klahr buildings by eminent domain,” Daniel Walmer, Oct. 24, 2012