It looks like the historic Garman Theatre has seen its last days.
The demolition process for the Garman and next-door Hotel Do De began Thursday, in order to make room for a proposed housing development. Crews knocked down a smaller structure in the back of the properties while the main buildings remain untouched for now.
Developer Ara Kervandjian plans to raze both building and renovate the nearby Cadillac Building to create 32 workforce housing units. All three buildings were badly damaged by fire.
Demolition of the buildings was slated to start late last week, but the historic review process to mitigate any negative effects in the historic district with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was not complete until Monday. Now that an agreement has been reached among all parties, demolition can begin, and Kervandjian is still eligible to receive federal money for his project.
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The borough has backed Kervandjian’s project for about a year, and borough Manager Ralph Stewart said he is happy to see it start to come to fruition, even though there has been some pushback from the some in the community.
“We are interested in moving forward,” he said. “It’s not the best scenario that we wanted, but as far as the burned-out buildings, it is what it is, and we’ve got to move forward.”
Bellefonte closed Cherry Lane between Allegheny Street and Cedar Lane for work behind the building, and the demolition company eventually will ask for a block of High Street to be closed for a short time, Stewart said. The entire process is expected to take three to four weeks.
Ownership of the theater has been under municipal and legal battles since May.
Kervandjian’s company, Progress Development Group, was selected over a Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association plan to restore the building to a regional arts center. The developer won the support of the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority, and his plan was approved by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler and upheld by a Commonwealth Court decision.
BHCA attorney Bruce Manchester said the group plans to take the case to the state Supreme Court, but he won’t have the documentation ready until likely January.
Kervandjian has said that plan would be in the best interest of Bellefonte to attract businesses and more residents to the downtown by replacing the burned-out buildings.
“Rebuilding those buildings, I think, is the beginning of a process that downtown Bellefonte sorely needs in order to take advantage of some of the opportunities that they have,” he said in February.
He did not return a request for comment Thursday.