Court to decide fate of the Garman Theatre within 15 days

mmorgan@centredaily.comJune 21, 2013 

Bellefonte officials took a major step Wednesday toward a plan to sell the historic but roof-less, mold-filled Garman Theatre on East High Street to a real estate magnate who would raze it to redevelop three downtown buildings that have been hollowed out by fires.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT file photo Buy Photo

— Both parties who want a piece of Bellefonte’s historic Garman Theatre had a chance to make their case in court Thursday, and now it’s time to wait.

A decision on the fire-damaged building will come from President Judge Thomas King Kistler in the next 15 days after he receives written reports from the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority and the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association.

The IDA voted last month to award the property to developer Ara Kervandjian’s Progress Development Group, which plans to raze both the Garman and the fire-gutted Hotel Do De and combine the new building with Cadillac building to form a housing project he’s calling Bellefonte Mews.

That project would include a combined 32 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units with a monthly rent ranging from $600 to $1,000.

The borough took conservatorship of the building under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, allowing it to choose a developer pending court approval. The group awarded the Garman will have the option to purchase it from the borough.

“We’ve done everything we can to comply with the statute under the circumstances,” borough Solicitor Rodney Beard said.

The documents for a sales agreement with Kervandjian indicate that the cost of the building would be $26,175. That number reimburses the borough for all its building costs, which includes boarding up windows and engineer and attorney fees.

But the BHCA wants to be awarded the property to see it restored. Its members are asking for a delay in any decision from Kistler.

The building has been ruled structurally sound, and the BHCA cited a covenant that prohibits the building from being demolished if it can be saved.

Kervandjian said he would no longer be willing to purchase the property unless all liens and covenants are wiped clean, a request the court can grant.

If it is awarded the Garman, the BHCA would immediately take steps to put a roof on the building and look for funding through grants and private donations to restore the property.

“We think it’s a good idea to make apartments in this town and take care of three buildings,” BHCA President Keith Koch testified. “We do not think it’s the best idea for this town.”

A BHCA engineer has said the restoration would cost about $1.3 million, but borough engineer Kevin Clark testified the extensive mold and interior damage would cost more than $3 million to restore.

Neither group has the money in hand.

Kervandjian’s project is reliant on tax credits, and the BHCA would need to find the money through grants and donations.

Whatever the outcome if either project falls through, the borough will have the option to buy back the property and find a new developer.

Matt Morgan can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @MetroMattMorgan.

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