Written by Joseph Cress, The Sentinel
A newly renovated Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse could be ready to receive its first guests by early April when lodging on the property is set to reopen, said Mike Kennedy, organizer of a group of investors involved in the project.
The Carriage Room is also scheduled to be available in April with the goal of having the entire property fully open by the end of May, Kennedy told South Middleton Township municipal and school district officials during a gathering Friday.
“All of the buildings except for Fairfield Hall and the theater are about 90 percent done,” Kennedy said. He added investors are waiting for a guaranteed maximum price from a general contractor before work can proceed to rebuild Fairfield Hall, the main cottage on the historic property.
The plans include the construction of a 6,000-square-foot addition to the top of Fairfield Hall that would be used as conference space with a seating capacity of about 400, Kennedy said.
He is hoping for fair weather so project crews can finish the work of repaving areas affected by the renovation. The investor group is already working with Carlisle Events and PPG in trying to draw guests to the newly renovated lodging. A number of weddings have already been booked at Allenberry in the coming year.
As for entertainment, the investors recently made a deal with an undisclosed company to run the theater and to book all kinds of acts, Kennedy said. He said that while there are plans to bring back the popular murder mystery events, the emphasis for now will be on dinners held on Fridays and Saturdays and hosted by an acting troupe out of Philadelphia. Eventually, Allenberry could return to a murder mystery weekend format.
The investors have also made a deal with an undisclosed group specializing in corporate retreats and team-building events to offer that kind of service to visitors under the Allenberry banner, Kennedy said.
“We’re really excited about some of the people we have put into the puzzle,” he said. “Allenberry has such a long-standing tradition. We think it has everything to do with tying it in with local families.”
History of Allenberry site
For years, the future of Allenberry was in flux. The Heinze family had owned the property at 1559 Boiling Springs Road since 1944 when Charles A.B. Heinze moved his family into a farmhouse. Years of labor transformed the family estate into a resort and playhouse.
But on the weekend of July 9 a Closer Look package in The Sentinel detailed the family’s plans to auction off the property on July 11 because a buyer had not stepped forward since its sale was announced in 2013.
It seemed like a somber ending for a community landmark. But on July 10, the Heinze family announced that an offer was in hand from a local group. Within two weeks, the new ownership group revealed itself with Kennedy, a Cumberland County native, as one of its organizers.
Kennedy is the chief executive officer at the Railroad Associates Corp., a railroad contractor based out of Mechanicsburg. His stated vision has not been to recreate the old Allenberry, but to polish and refinish a legacy that already exists.
To that end, the Heinze family allowed the investor group to begin renovations on the property last July before the group had officially purchased Allenberry in September.
For years, representatives of South Middleton Township and the South Middleton School District have met informally at non-public meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern. The township and school district share the same borders and tax base and have routinely exchanged equipment and services, said Al Moyer, superintendent of South Middleton schools.
Moyer announced at the Jan. 16 school board meeting that this informal group would receive a briefing from Kennedy on the status of the Allenberry renovation project. The Sentinel sat in on the update.
Township Manager Cory Adams and Moyer work together to plan the agendas of the informal meetings for officials. The group tries to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss issues of common concern.
At a previous meeting, Township Supervisor Duff Manweiler suggested the group invite Kennedy to give an update on the project at Allenberry.
Even though Allenberry is in Monroe Township, the resort and playhouse are in close proximity to the village of Boiling Springs, South Middleton Township and the school district, Moyer said. He added the school district has close ties to Allenberry in a number of ways.
The Boiling Springs High School music department has in the past borrowed costumers from the playhouse for use in its musicals and theatrical performances, Moyer said. Faculty members have also been involved in the murder mystery shows and other productions at Allenberry.
In the past, the school district has worked with Allenberry to provide apprenticeship opportunities to its students at the playhouse and resort, Moyer said. He added there is also an effort underway to better connect Boiling Springs village to parks and other areas nearby.
Possible student programs
Ever since the investors purchased Allenberry, Kennedy has been hearing from people who used to work at the resort and playhouse as teenagers. That gave the group the idea of maybe setting up an internship or mentorship program through local school districts that would enable students to get engaged in what it takes to run a business and to sell a product or service.
“It is something that we have really lost in a lot of ways in our society,” Kennedy said. He believes students should not only learn how to promote the service by giving visitors formal tours, but get hands-on with chores like washing dishes and cleaning the grease trap.
“They should get that full experience,” Kennedy said. “That’s what’s it all about.”
Close to 100 Boiling Springs High School students are involved in some form of job shadowing, mentorship or internship programs, Moyer said. The superintendent added the high school has a very large and active Future Business Leaders of America chapter that emphasizes financial literacy and entrepreneurship.
There have already been preliminary talks about a possible program between Kerrie Truax, executive director of the Friends of Allenberry, and Amber Stewart, a business education teacher and career coordinator at Boiling Springs High School.
“We don’t have a timeline,” Truax said Friday. “We are working on that right now. We are moving on it.”
Working with the Friends group, the investors want to earmark some of the profitability of Allenberry to local families “that need an extra push of cash” to help deserving students pursue athletic or academic goals, Kennedy said.
Fly fishing future
The Yellow Breeches Creek, which borders Allenberry, is known for its fly fishing. Fishermen are still welcome to use the resort property to access the creek and there are plans to allow access to land on the opposite bank, Kennedy said.
The investors are working with the TCO Fly Shop in Boiling Springs to offer the future guests of Allenberry clinics on fly fishing, Kennedy said. He added the group is also working with an expert from State College on a proposal to improve the stream and its fish habitat.
The fly fishing museum, long a fixture of Allenberry, is in the process of relocating to a building on the LeTort Creek, Kennedy said.
He said Allenberry represents a “major cash gobbler” for the investors who are working with the local townships on the approval of a housing development that would represent a partial payback on the upfront investment on the resort and playhouse.
There are plans to develop a network of golf cart pathways to connect the resort property to the proposed new neighborhood planned for the other side of the John Heinze home, Kennedy said. There is talk of developing a suspension bridge over the Yellow Breeches and a path that could connect Allenberry to the nearby village of Boiling Springs.
“We consider Allenberry a very important part of Boiling Springs,” said Duff Manweiler, a South Middleton Township supervisor.
Township Manager Cory Adams commended Kennedy and the investors for their efforts. “What you propose to do and what has been done is essential to what we are working towards,” Adams said. “Boiling Springs does not belong to South Middleton or Monroe townships, it belongs to Cumberland County. A key lynch pin is what is going on at Allenberry.”