Despite demolition, historic group to continue the fight for the Garman Theatre

mmorgan@centredaily.comJanuary 9, 2014 

— The Garman Theatre is about halfway demolished, but the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association is going to keep on fighting.

President Keith Koch said Thursday that the historic preservation group will continue with a petition for review in the state Supreme Court because its members don’t believe Bellefonte officials followed the correct procedure for the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act.

Under the act, an agency takes control of a destroyed or abandoned building with the goal of selling it to someone who will develop it and rid the town of the eyesore. After choosing a developer, the local courts must approve the plan.

BHCA members have said they would have liked to be informed about the building’s availability sooner and assert that their proposal wasn’t given enough consideration. The group wanted to get control of the building to rehabilitate it into a regional arts center.

Koch said they want the Supreme Court to take the case to set a precedent for similar situations in the future. He said people from all over are watching the case because the law is new and hasn’t been tested through court proceedings.

“The building is lost. That’s for certain,” he said. “But the methodology, the method, the procedure of getting the building should not have happened like it did.”

Bellefonte awarded the opportunity to purchase the building to State College developer Ara Kervandjian and his Progress Development Group. Kervandjian is razing the Garman and next-door Hotel Do De, and combined with the Cadillac Building, would create 32 workforce housing apartments.

That decision also was approved by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler and upheld by the Commonwealth Court before the BHCA took it to the Supreme Court.

Koch also argues that the building was ruled structurally sound, so the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority should have approved their plan to put a roof on it and gradually restore it.

“It was an unnecessary destruction of a major historic building in town,” he said.

The Garman was constructed in 1890 and played host to acts such as George Burns and Gracie Allen, Harry Houdini and the Floradora Girls.

But Bellefonte leadership is confident that all the procedures were followed.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said they went by the letter of the act, and it held up through two lower courts so far. He is not worried that the Supreme Court would find anything different or reverse any decisions.

“I don’t think (the BHCA) can accept that procedures have been followed, and it’s obviously past the point of compromise,” he said.

Demolition of the facade continued Thursday, and previous estimations say that it will be another one to two weeks before the process is finished.

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

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