Bellefonte officials support developer’s plan to raze historic Garman Theatre

Goodbye, Garman Theatre.

Bellefonte officials took a major step Wednesday toward a plan to sell the historic but roof-less, mold-filled theater on East High Street to a real estate magnate who would raze it to redevelop three downtown buildings that have been hollowed out by fires.

The members of the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority voted to accept Ara Kervandjian’s workforce housing project proposal over a competing proposal from a group of 20 residents in the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association who promised to repair the building and return it to a theater. The authority faced a deadline Monday to submit a proposal in Centre County court as part of a process to transfer ownership of the property.

For the officials, rejecting Kervandjian’s proposal for the Garman would have nixed the entire redevelopment plan, which calls for two apartment buildings, one in a renovated Cadillac Building and the other on the site of the Garman and Hotel Do De. Kervandjian told them the Garman property was a must for the project to be competitive for some state money to help pay for the project.

Borough Council President Frank Halderman lobbied hard for the authority to go with Kervandjian.

“Without Ara coming here, we’re going to have an empty lot like the Bush House,” Halderman said, comparing the future of the Garman to the historic hotel that burned down in 2006 and has been a vacant lot since then. “I think it’s the best thing for Bellefonte.”

The authority considered the proposals as part of the court-ordered process to transfer ownership of the property.

Borough officials asked a judge to make the authority the owner of the theater under a blighted property law, and President Judge Thomas King Kistler approved it. Kister then scheduled a hearing June 20 for testimony about the proposal to remedy the blighted state of the property, and he required the authority to have a plan in hand 30 days before the hearing. After the hearing, Kistler would then approve the authority transferring the property to Kervandjian.

Halderman was the one who made the motion to accept Kervandjian’s proposal, and his words met with gasps from some of the people from the historical and cultural association who do not want to see the historic theater lost.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said repairing the Garman would cost $4 million. The theater was damaged in September during the fire that destroyed the adjoining Hotel Do De, but officials have said the theater was neglected for several years to the point where mold had spread throughout the inside because of a leaky roof and no ventilation.

Kervandjian promised to replicate the facade of the Garman and Hotel Do De as much as possible, and he said materials that can be salvaged will be used in the new building.

His plans call for one building to go up where the Do De and Garman are, called the Garman House, and a renovation of the Cadillac Building that will be called the Cadillac House. Together, the buildings are dubbed the Bellefonte Mews, the latter a word that refers to stables on buildings in the 19th century that are present on these buildings.

Kervandjian bought the Cadillac Building in January for $30,000 from Hank and Judy Haranin, of Spring Township. Kervandjian has sales agreements in place for the Hotel Do De, owned by John Dann, and the Garman, whose owners Kathy, Allison and Ronald Iadarola have been in foreclosure.

The two buildings will have 32 apartments between them, and the one-, two- and three-bedroom units will have monthly rents in the range of $600 to $1,000.

Kervandjian sold his proposal as a catalyst for future growth by putting more people in town.

“This is the type of thing that bolsters developers coming into this market,” said Kervandjian, whose plans call for construction in February.

But the people with the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association opposed Kervandjian’s plan.

Keith Koch, the group’s president, pleaded with the authority members to choose their option, which would repair the property in six steps: fix the roof, fix the on-site apartments for cash flow, find someone to open the restaurant in the basement, repair the community room, restore the motel rooms and lastly, fix the theater.

Koch said the group planned to start a fundraising campaign and would seek out grants to help pay for the projects.

But Halderman said the group did not have money ready for what its members proposed, and authority Chairman Paul Badger doubted if the Garman returning to a theater/hotel/restaurant combination would be viable as a business again.

It’s more sensible to redevelop this property,” Halderman said.