Bellefonte Borough Council’s vote Monday night to approve the demolition of the Garman Theatre was a step in the direction of workforce housing, but there remains a long way to go.
Manager Ralph Stewart said the borough’s Historical Architecture Review Board and Planning Commission will have to review developer Ara Kervandjian’s architectural plans for the site, and it will go back before council before he can break ground.
Kervandjian plans to raze the Garman and Hotel Do De and combine them with the nearby Cadillac Building to create 32 units of workforce housing. He owns all three buildings, which were damaged by fire.
More than 100 people came out to support saving the Garman on Monday, and the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association collected more than 700 signatures from Bellefonte residents in support of a plan to restore the building to a regional arts center.
But Stewart said there is no evidence they make up the majority of the total community.
“We have a population of about 6,200 people. I think council generally tries to do what is in the best interest of all 6,200,” he said, adding that the decision isn’t always popular for those in attendance at the meetings.
Though this vote didn’t go their way, Stewart said the people who said there wasn’t enough to do in Bellefonte may have a point. Many residents said a restored Garman could have been an attraction to bring more people into the town.
Borough officials will try to work more with local agencies such as the Bellefonte Intervalley Area Chamber of Commerce, the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, Historic Bellefonte Inc. and others to plan more events or bring in more business.
“I think if there are any lessons learned, we do need to think about what people do in Bellefonte with their time,” he said.
And the ultimate fate of the Garman Theatre likely won’t be decided locally.
BHCA attorney Bruce Manchester filed a notice of appeal last month after Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler approved the decision to award the option to purchase the building to Kervandjian. He also filed the appeal issues late last week and plans to file an injunction against demolition by the end of the week with the Commonwealth Court.
Their argument includes: Kervandjian not having the funding in place; the Abandoned and Blighted Properties Conservatorship Act stipulating rehabilitation of a building over demolition; that ABPC legislation is new and hasn’t been challenged through appellate courts; that the deed was transferred to Bellefonte Mews instead of the approved Progress Development Group, which owns Bellefonte Mews; and that it was a mistake by Kistler not to approve the BHCA request for an injunction.
BHCA President Keith Koch, who has remained optimistic throughout the process, still hopes the group ultimately will get the deed to the building through the appeals process.
“We’re quite convinced that none of this has been done correctly,” he said.
Kervandjian said he would withhold most of his public comments because of the pending litigation, but said he was pleased with the vote Monday.
“Obviously, we were encouraged by the final outcome (Monday) night,” he wrote in an email. “We appreciate all of the comments there were expressed by both the community and council members.”