The decision to demolish the Garman Theatre by the unanimous vote by the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority was not without much thought and heart-felt deliberation.
The proposal by the group wanting to save the Garman was without a doubt the first option that everyone would like to have happened. But with the realities of the project — mainly the cost to repair the fire damage — it was not feasible.
The authority retained an architectural and engineering firm that provided a cost of about $4.5 million to repair the building, and the group’s engineer’s estimate was $1.3 million.
When weighing the two entities as to who had the better chance of moving forward, the entity looking to provide workforce housing had the better financial position.
The developer who wants to take possession of the property came to the borough council with a plan to not only develop the Garman but also the former Hotel Do De and the Cadillac Building, providing workforce housing and a place to live for the many families displaced by the fires at those buildings and at the Bellefonte Academy, not including the Bush House Hotel fire.
This is the only person who stepped forward since those three properties were lost to devastating fires who provided an opportunity for Bellefonte to replace or restore those properties. This, along with the other properties, will put people in downtown Bellefonte, helping to make the downtown a more vibrant community.
The IDA was under a court-ordered deadline to make a recommendation prior to a hearing on the final disposition of the Garman. If we had not made a decision — which we did after careful deliberation — the only option remaining would have been for the IDA to demolish the building at its expense. And the IDA, like the group wanting to restore the Garman, does not have the funds to undertake such a burden.
Do I want to see three more damaged properties sit for an untold number of years before anything, if ever, they are developed? No, I do not. These properties and the waterfront development will bring more people to downtown Bellefonte.
In whatever decision I have voted on concerning Bellefonte, I have always tried to make that decision in the best interest of all the residents of Bellefonte, not because I sympathize or support a particular individual or group, but because I love Bellefonte and want nothing more than to see Bellefonte prosper for the next 200 years.
Frank Halderman is president of the Bellefonte Borough Council.