Garman backers make case to Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority

The group trying to save the Garman Theatre will have its final chance to make its case Aug. 26, but it gave a preview at Wednesday’s Industrial Development Authority meeting.

About 25 Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association supporters attended the meeting Wednesday to weigh in and make a case to the IDA, which was was appointed conservator of the building in March under the Abandoned and Blighted Properties Conservatorship Act.

The IDA previously has supported the plan by State College developer Ara Kervandjian to raze both the Garman and the Hotel Do De and combine them into one complex. When paired with the Cadillac Building, he would create 32 work-force housing apartment units. All three buildings were badly damaged by fire.

Bellefonte Assistant Manager Don Holderman also confirmed at the meeting that Kervandjian has one of two proposals still in the running for the borough’s waterfront revitalization project.

Kervandjian plans to demolish the Garman and the Do De by February and would have 24 months to come up with funding through housing tax credits to mobilize on construction, or the borough will have the option to buy back the property.

But BHCA President Keith Koch said if the funding never materializes there will just be a vacant lot.

“I want you to come up with a logical conclusion about why you want grass,” Koch said.

If the BHCA gets the building, it plans to put a roof on it by October and gradually attempt to get the funding to restore it as a community center for the arts, hotel, restaurant and apartment space. Koch said the group has about $138,000 in donations and pledges to mobilize on the project.

Borough Council President and IDA member Frank “Buddy” Halderman is not so sure those plans would pan out.

He said much of the BHCA funding is in the form of pledges that have not been collected and banked and the costs could continue to rise. The estimate on the roof from Hanley Construction is nearly $150,000 without the additional costs of prevailing wage if public funding is used.

In addition, the group would have to purchase the building from the IDA for the cost that the borough has put into it, which is now about $40,000.

“I actually support saving the Garman,” he said. “I just don’t think financially it’s going to happen.”

IDA member Matt Hill echoed those concerns, saying he would like to see a step-by-step plan of how much the project would cost and milestones of when certain work would be completed.

In order to get the chance at the Garman, the BHCA would need the IDA to reverse course and vote in favor of adopting the alternate plan.

After a hearing Monday, President Judge Thomas King Kistler gave the BHCA an additional two weeks to present information on why it should be awarded the building.

It will get its final chance at a 5 p.m. meeting Aug. 26, which will be followed by an IDA executive session where it will come to a decision. If it decides to stick with Kervandjian’s plan, it will submit that information to Kistler, but if the board members decide to reverse course it must take official action at the next meeting.

Kister wrote in his decision that if the IDA doesn’t change its mind he will act on the request without further hearing.