counterproposal to save the Garman Theatre

Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority won’t reveal Garman Theatre decision

mdawson@centredaily.comAugust 27, 2013 

— The borough’s Industrial Development Authority decided Monday whether it will consider a counterproposal to save the Garman Theatre, but its members haven’t revealed their decision to anyone, including the people who waited out a nearly two-hour executive session.

The preservation supporters from the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association will learn the decision from the authority’s lawyer in a few days, association President Keith Koch was told after the meeting Monday.

The authority heard the association’s plans for renovating the historic theater, which burned in a devastating fire last September, and turning it into a regional arts center. The association was given until Monday to submit their detailed plans so the authority’s members could fully consider it against one from a local developer, who wants to buy the theater, demolish it and redevelop it as work-force housing.

The authority’s members went into an executive session that lasted from about 6 until 7:45 p.m., officials said, but the members left without revealing whether they would stick with their previous decision to support the developer’s plan or change their mind. They didn’t return to the council chambers, where the association’s members had waited.

Messages left for authority Chairman Paul Badger and Council President Frank Halderman were not returned.

Either way, the authority couldn’t vote, as the meeting wasn’t advertised as one in which a vote would occur. The authority’s next meeting is Sept. 11, and if there is something to vote on, it would happen then, said borough Assistant Manager Don Holderman, who referred all comments to the authority after the executive session.

The battle for the Garman began when the historical association’s members made a last-gasp proposal months ago to save the theater, but the authority sided with the developer, Ara Kervandjian, and the situation looked like a done deal.

In response, the association put together a campaign to raise awareness of their intentions, and that’s when community support coalesced around the idea of preserving and renovating the theater, which had been without a roof since the fire and before that had been on the market for $1 million.

President Judge Thomas King Kistler, who’s presiding over the court procedure in which the authority took control of the theater property, gave the historical association two extensions to get their ducks in a row.

Monday’s presentation is likely the last chance they’ll get.

“We care about this town, not just its buildings alone,” supporter Jonathan Eburne told the authority on Monday. “We’ve worked to make this possibility feasible. We want to work together with you to make this a reality.”

Specifically, the save-the-Garman plan would first put a roof over the theater to stop the weather from damaging it further and remove the mold from the inside. They’d renovate the fourth floor into apartments in the hope of generating some income.

The next phase would include major fundraising campaigns for donations and grant applications as well as shifting the management to a nonprofit organization to begin the programs intended for the arts center.

But the issue over money has weighed against the association. At a court hearing earlier this month, Koch said he had donations and pledges but not a significant amount of money in hand.

At Monday’s meeting, Koch waved around a $50,000 check he said was a donation, and he said he was sure he’d get another one if the group was given the green light.

According to financial figures presented by the association, they’d need $200,000 to stabilize the theater and between $320,000 to $400,000 to remove the mold.

The supporters also say they’d like to collaborate with the arts organizations already in Bellefonte and State College in the hope of maximizing the use of a renovated Garman.

“Building a regional arts center in Bellefonte will build on strengths we already have,” Eburne said.

The group has collected more than 1,000 signatures on a paper petition to save the Garman, and an online one on change.org has collected almost 580. County Commissioners Steve Dershem and Michael Pipe signed the petition, too, members said.

Kervandjian, the developer, has said the apartments will utilize three historic buildings burned by fires: the Hotel Do De, the Cadillac Building and the Garman. Kervandjian has bought the Cadillac and has a sales agreement in place for the Hotel Do De.

The devastating fire started in the Hotel Do De and was ruled arson.

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