Bellefonte board stands by decision to allow State College developer to take Garman property

mmorgan@centredaily.comSeptember 11, 2013 

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State College developer Ara Kervandjian said he amended his plan and, if given the building, he will work to preserve the existing facade of the Garman Theatre in Bellefonte.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT file photo Buy Photo

— The silence didn’t bode well for the members of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association.

But that’s all they heard Wednesday each of the three times that Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority Chairman Paul Badger asked for a motion from the board to change its previous vote on the fate of the fire-damaged Garman Theatre.

The IDA will be sticking with its proposal to award the opportunity to buy the building to State College developer Ara Kervandjian and his company Progress Development Group. The decision must now be approved by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler.

In a previous court order, Kistler said he will act on this decision without another hearing.

If he does end up with the building, Kervandjian plans to follow through on his proposal to raze it and the Hotel Do De, creating 32 workforce housing apartment units when combined with the Cadillac Building. His company already owns the Do De and the Cadillac, both also damaged by fire.

“I looked at the opportunities to help the community and revitalize the town,” Kervandjian said of his proposal to redevelop the burned out buildings.

He said PDG is committed to redeveloping all three properties, hopefully under the original plan using Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency tax credits. His proposal to PHFA was originally declined because he didn’t have ownership of the Garman property, a requirement under the act.

Kervandjian will reapply for the tax credit program in February.

If he is unable to get the tax credits, his plans will not stop there. Kervandjian said he would find another way to redevelop the properties, but an alternate plan hasn’t yet come to fruition.

“We don’t like to leave properties abandoned,” the developer said. “That’s not what we do.”

He also reaffirmed his commitment to try to save the facade of the Garman if it is economically and technically feasible. He said a third-party engineer will look into that possibility as plans move forward.

This will likely be the final action on the issue from the IDA in a process that has taken several months. Kistler has extended the deadline for a final decision multiple times.

The last extension was asked for by the IDA. Badger said Wednesday they asked for that extension to get more information on the BHCA proposal.

Borough solicitor Rodney Beard read of a list of questions that he asked the BHCA including how much money they had in the bank, architectural plans, liability insurance and if there was a plan to obtain a performance bond to demolish the building if plans went south.

The BHCA proposed to save the building by turning it into a regional arts center.

The short term plan would have been to re-roof it, preventing more damage. They would then start chipping away at the other parts as time went on. They have about $239,000 in the bank, according to their response to Beard.

The group estimates the five-year project would cost $5 million, and officials estimate the BHCA would need to secure about $1 million in public funding.

BHCA President Keith Koch said he doesn’t see the issue as being over, and he is still optimistic that they will eventually end up with the building. He said the people trying to save the building have come too far to give up now, but he would not reveal what the next move is.

When asked if he thinks all options have been exhausted, Koch said, simply, “we’ll see.”

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

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