Group continues effort to save the Garman Theatre with public forum

The Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association is not ready to stop its effort to save the Garman Theatre.

The Industrial Development Authority unanimously supported developer Ara Kervandjian’s plan to demolish the Hotel Do De and Garman to create a housing project last month, but that won’t stop the BHCA from trying to save it.

The group has called a meeting at 7 p.m. June 12 in the third floor of the courthouse annex to raise public support before a June 20 hearing decides the fate of the building. If the court rules in favor of Kervandjian and the IDA, he will have the green light to purchase the property.

JoAnn Knupp has been a strong supporter of salvaging the Garman since it was ruled structurally sound and wants to preserve the historic building for modern use.

“There’s just so much there, to just tear it down is awful,” she said.

Knupp would like it see it utilized with apartments, a restaurant, artist-in-residence programs, showing old movies and hosting musical performances. She has heard from an engineer that the building could be salvaged for $1.3 million, but Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said repairing the Garman would cost $4 million.

The theater was damaged during a September 2012 fire that also destroyed the Hotel Do De.

Kervandjian plans to turn the Garman and Hotel Do De into one building with workforce housing apartment units, also developing the fire-damaged Cadillac Building for the same purposes.

He has said the housing development will be an important part of Bellefonte’s future but won’t comment further.

“My position is that everyone wants what is best for the community and what can practically be done.” he wrote in an email. “The matter is now before the court and to that point any further comment would be inappropriate.”

BHCA President Keith Koch said the group will make the case at the hearing that there is a covenant attached to the deed that would prohibit knocking the building down.

He added that if they are awarded the building, fixing the roof would be the top priority before getting any other part operational. They would then take it one step at a time, eventually getting the whole building in use.

The group would attempt to fund the project through grants, loans and donations from the community.

Koch said if the court awards Kervandjian the building it will probably be the end of the effort.

“We’re not going to be causing riots or any trouble,” he said.