Former business owner gathers signatures on petition to save Garman

Borough Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers to possibly ratify the demolition of the Garman Theatre.

But one resident has something to say before the vote is made.

Sally Houser spent most of last week with downtown business owners seeking signatures on a petition asking council to save the theater.

Twenty-two people from 16 downtown businesses signed the petition.

State College developer Ara Kervandjian wants to raze the Garman along with the Hotel Do De to create one building with workforce house apartments. When combined with the Cadillac Building, he plans to create 32 units.

Kervandjian owns all three buildings, which were damaged by fire.

“Most of the owners that were able to spend time with me are very upset that we are going to loose another historical building in our community, especially one that could be restored and rehabilitated into a regional arts center that they see could economically developed the downtown,” Houser said.

By Monday night’s meeting, Houser said she would present the petition to the council for consideration.

Houser, a retired business owner, is a member of the Save the Garman group, Victorian Christmas chairwoman and vice president of the Historic Bellefonte Inc. board.

Councilman Walt Schneider, who sits on the building and property committee, said he cannot foresee what the council’s actions would be until the meeting saying it was be “premature” to say anything before all documents were reviewed.

The Bellefonte Historical Architecture Review Board recommended in a 3-2 vote last month that council approve the demolition request. HARB, an advisory body, does not have power to issue permits or make final decisions.

Brian Herman, owner of The Great Mish Mosh, 128 S. Allegheny St., was one of the first to sign the petition.

“I think downtown Bellefonte would benefit greatly from making it a theater again,” he said. “The area already has low income housing and I think if you lose something like what the Garman was, it’s never coming back.”

Although he said any kind of development is good for the facility, making it a place where people can come into Bellefonte and potentially create additional business downtown would be the best bet.

“This area has a lot of industry that has moved out,” Herman said. “What we have here is our Victorian history and heritage, and that’s what we need to hang onto. If you put in more low income housing, and with the lack of jobs already in the area, that’s what the town will become.”

Herman, of Pleasant Gap, opened a vintage furniture store in Bellefonte downtown this summer.

“I spoke with people who are supporters and those who are not on board,” he said. “The naysayers are concerned over whether or not people can actually make the plans happen.”

Herman said he believes there should be a timeline for those who want to maintain the Garman.

“They should have a date that things need to get done,” Herman said. “Any kind of development is better than a vacant building, but I think they’re on the right path and have raised a fair amount of money in a short time.”

By mid-October, the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association had raised more than $250,000 to restore the Garman.

Another business owner who signed the petition said while she supports the cause, she thinks it’s not realistic for the community.

“I signed it because I support the lady who I spoke with. She has good intent,” said Sandra Wilkins, owner of Sweet Memories Candy & Gifts, 103 S. Allegheny St. “I really think downtown would be better off with housing instead of restoring the theater.”

She said if the theater is restored, it might get a lot of hype the first few weeks, but wondered what the community would do to keep up that interest.

“With housing, we have some homeless in Bellefonte and others may be able to benefit from the housing development. The more people we can get into Bellefonte, the more traffic we can see at local businesses,” Wilkins said.

She added that with the theater, she doesn’t think there is much left to save although the motive behind the project is good.