Developer proposes saving Bellefonte’s Garman facade

Ara Kervandjian is looking for common ground with the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association.

The State College developer told the Bellefonte Historical Architecture Review Board at a special meeting Thursday that he has amended his plan and will do everything in his power to preserve the existing facade of the Garman Theatre if he is awarded the building.

He also pointed out that, in his proposal, there are two commercial spaces on the bottom floor of the Garman House that could be rented by the BHCA to use as a regional arts center. One space would have about 3,800 square feet and the other would have 1,800.

“I think that’s a fair compromise that everyone should embrace,” he said.

A final decision on the fate of the building is expected at the Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority meeting Wednesday, when board members will choose between Kervandjian’s plan for workforce housing and the BHCA’s plan to restore the Garman to create a regional arts center.

The Garman and the Hotel DoDe have sat abandoned for nearly a year after a fire tore through both buildings.

Officials met for almost two hours behind closed doors last week, but they would not divulge the thought process or what was discussed. After the meeting, President Judge Thomas King Kistler extended the decision deadline for a third time. Kistler has indicated that he plans to accept the IDA’s final decision without another hearing.

The HARB reaction to the presentation was positive because it is its job to preserve the streetscape.

Board member Tamara Schuster said that, if the new plan comes to fruition, it’s a win-win situation.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea now that you’re going to save the facade,” she said to Kervandjian. “I think that helps the community a lot.”

It also might be more economical for the BHCA to rent out the smaller space instead of trying to save the entire building, Chairman Samuel McGinley Jr. said.

Several BHCA members attended the meeting but withheld questions because Kervandjian planned to meet with the group later to discuss the developments.

Though “Save the Garman” supporter Mary Vollero said she is pleased that he would attempt to save the facade, she said after the meeting that she would like to see the stage portion restored as well. She and other members just want to walk into the restored theater one more time, Vollero said.

Kervandjian said a full restoration of that area would not be possible under his plans.

The only potential problems that could arise in trying to save the facade could be structurally or monetarily. He said the architects wouldn’t know for sure whether it would be possible until the floor is exposed and they are able to inspect it more closely.