Benninghoff: Garman Theatre development project good for Bellefonte

While state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff respects and appreciates the history of Bellefonte, he said some concessions may need to be made to improve vibrancy in the town — namely the Garman Theatre.

Recently, community members and the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association have worked to try and save the theater, which would be torn down and replaced with a workforce housing complex under the plans of State College developer Ara Kervandjian.

But Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said the town needs to prioritize its wishes and make sure the burned-out Garman, Hotel Do De and Cadillac Building are redeveloped, eliminating the “ugly eyesores” that plague downtown Bellefonte.

“What we want to have in a community and what we can afford to have are two different things,” he said, adding that even before the fire the theater was a niche business that was not very financially successful.

He said the redevelopment of the burned buildings would provide a financial and emotional boost to the borough and residents as long as the projects follow the current streetscape design and fit into the Victorian feel.

Bellefonte officials seem to fall in line with Kervandjian and Benninghoff, as the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority voted earlier this month to accept the workforce housing proposal over saving the theater.

“Without Ara coming here, we’re going to have an empty lot like the Bush House,” Borough Council President Frank Halderman said at the meeting in reference to the building that has been vacant since a fire in 2006. “I think it’s the best thing for Bellefonte.”

Benninghoff also said the borough’s proposed waterfront project could help to bring more people to the town.

The project is designed to develop the land along Spring Creek into a boutique hotel and a high-rise apartment complex with parking in the middle to serve both buildings.

Flood walls are being discussed to help alleviate the flooding issue, but Benninghoff said he would like to see raised buildings similar to beach towns to help solve the problem without paying for the wall. He acknowledged that the decision is ultimately up to Bellefonte officials.

The borough is expected to submit a plan to the state Department of Environmental Protection by July or August on its plan to alleviate the floodplain problem and get the land ready for sale to a developer. Borough Manager Ralph Stewart has been working with an engineering firm to try and decide the best course of action and said all avenues are still being discussed.

“Our goal is to hand these properties over to a developer and try to maximize as much buildable area as possible,” Stewart said,

Stewart is hoping the proposal will be returned by the construction season in 2014 and is simultaneously reaching out to developers to lock down deals for the land.