Hearing to help decide future of Garman Theatre set for Monday; group continues to raise funds trying to save it

Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler gave the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association additional time to make “substantial progress” in raising money to save the historic Garman Theatre.

On Monday, it will be time to see how far the group got.

BHCA President Keith Koch said he was optimistic the group raised enough in donations and pledges to impress Kistler, meeting his goal to be able to pay for the immediate re-roofing of the burned-out building and save it from further damage.

“We’re coming in well-prepared, and if we get the building, we will do what we said we will do,” he said. “If not, it will be gone.”

A hearing is set for 10 a.m. Monday in the Centre County Courthouse.

Koch was not able to provide a specific monetary figure that the group raised as of Wednesday but said money is still coming in by the day. The BHCA has reached out to Bellefonte residents and merchants and will continue its push in the few days remaining, he said.

The issues first arose after the September 2012 fire that gutted the next-door Hotel Do De and badly damaged the Garman. The borough took conservatorship of the building under the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, allowing it to choose a developer pending court approval. The group awarded the Garman will have the option to purchase it from the borough.

Bellefonte’s Industrial Development Authority voted in May in favor of a plan by State College developer Ara Kervandjian, who would raze both the Garman and the Do De, erecting one building to pair with the Cadillac Building and create 32 work-force housing apartment units.

Kervandjian has said he believes his plan is in the best interest of the town, but declined further comment until a decision has been made. He did not return a request for comment.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said Bellefonte officials continue to back Kervandjian’s plan as being better and more realistic.

Under his interpretation of the act, Kistler does not have the authority to choose an alternate plan. He would only be able to accept, amend or reject Kervandjian’s plan. If it would be rejected, the borough would be forced to identify an alternate plan, and the process would begin anew.

But Koch remains hopeful his group will end up with the building and help return it to its former glory. He has cited a covenant attached to the deed that says the building should not be demolished if it is ruled structurally sound.

In addition to raising renovation dollars, the BHCA has reached out to specific school and community groups to gauge interest of potential building uses.

“We also are developing different business plans to make it more community oriented and visitor oriented,” he said.

Other aspects that could be included are apartments, a hotel, restaurant and stage area for movies and live performances.

The group is still accepting donations and pledges in the days leading up to the hearing.