Judge gives Bellefonte group another shot at saving Garman Theatre

The group that wants to save the historic Garman Theatre will get one final chance.

President Judge Thomas King Kistler at a Monday hearing said he will delay a final decision another two weeks and give the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association another opportunity to update its progress to the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority and try to save the fire-damaged building.

The IDA’s next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, and it will be the final chance for the BHCA to sway the group that took conservatorship of the property under the Abandoned and Blighted Properties Conservatorship Act.

When the IDA took control of the property, it listened to proposals from State College developer Ara Kervandjian and the BHCA before ruling in favor of Kervandjian’s plan to raze the Garman and the next-door Hotel Do De and create 32 workforce housing units in combination with the already acquired Cadillac Building. All three buildings are fire-damaged. Kervandjian said Centre County has a “tremendous need” for that type of housing.

If the IDA is not swayed by the final proposal and does not need more time, Kistler wrote in his decision that he intends to act on the proposal without further hearing.

Kistler had given the BHCA an extension of no more than 60 days to make substantial progress in securing funding for its proposed project after a June 20 hearing, and has now granted another two weeks.

Kervandjian testified that he has a $250,000 performance bond to demolish the building if he is awarded control, and the redevelopment project would be contingent on tax credits. He had applied for the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, but he was denied because he didn’t have control of the building.

If he is awarded the Garman, he can reapply for the tax credit in February.

Kistler compared the problem to the “chicken or the egg” dilemma in terms of awarding the building without the necessary funds in place.

If the BHCA is awarded the building, President Keith Koch testified that his group would re-roof it by October with donations and pledges it has received.

Estimates for roof replacement fall between $100,000 and nearly $150,000.

Koch, who donned a “Save the Garman Opera House” shirt at the hearing, said the organization has raised $90,000 in donations and pledges, and the group wants to restore the historic theater to its former glory.

The BHCA has been in contact with outside agencies about using the building if it was restored, and Koch testified they would like to see it used for a movie theater, live performances, a restaurant, meeting rooms, hotel rooms and apartments.

“We have a building that has been in this town for 120 years,” he said. “If someone doesn’t step up, it’s going to be grass. Gone forever.”