This Monday, a court hearing will decide the fate of the Garman Opera House. The Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association wants to restore the building as a regional arts center. While this use is consistent with efforts to revitalize our downtown, the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority opposes the plan and would like to turn over the historic building to the Progress Development Group. They claim that PDG’s plan to raze buildings for workforce housing is better for Bellefonte and more likely to succeed. And yet:• PDG was recently denied funding for its project. Without funding, the only thing PDG has promised is to destroy buildings. Under the present circumstances, yet another vacant lot in the center of town may well be all we get from the deal.
• The project requires dramatic zoning variances. This area is not zoned for high density housing, and appropriately so. Furthermore, where high density housing is permitted, zoning requires 2.5 parking spaces per unit. PDG’s plan would provide barely half a space per unit, further exacerbating the downtown parking problem.
By contrast, the BHCA is well on its way to meeting fundraising goals to stabilize and preserve the building. And long term, a nonprofit arts center will be a tremendous cultural asset to the community while supporting the local economy by drawing more visitors downtown.