Garman demolition likely delayed; foes consider another appeal

The Garman Theatre may yet have life.

The demolition of the historic theater and next-door Hotel Do De was scheduled for Friday, but historic preservation negotiations with the state will likely delay the process.

Developer Ara Kervandjian is seeking Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency tax credits to raze the Garman and Do De to create 32 units of workforce housing apartment units when combined with the nearby Cadillac Building. All three buildings were damaged by fire.

But if he doesn’t first go through a review process and enter an agreement with the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission, he will have no chance at getting the funding.

A meeting among all the parties involved took place in the Bellefonte borough building Thursday, and though an agreement seems likely, the group did not yet sign off on the demolition.

That likely means the demolition will not take place Friday as planned, Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said. The Thursday meeting was not open to the public.

“Basically, to sum it up, the answer given was, ‘an agreement should be signed off on by all parties before demolition starts,’ ” Stewart said.

In the agreement, Kervandjian will be charged with mitigating the loss of the historic buildings by saving or rebuilding parts of the architecture such as eaves, the fluted columns and Garman sign. He may also need to pull out portions of the inside to be reused and put up some signage describing the history of the property.

The borough has agreed to store some items from the interior of the building until a use is found for them.

All parties have agreed to expedite the process, because a February 2014 deadline to demolish the building is approaching, and they are not sure if snow could cause upper portions of the building to be unsafe.

The entire agreement process could take up to four weeks because of the holidays, but it could happen sooner, Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association Attorney Bruce Manchester said. Manchester also sat in on the meeting.

BHCA proposed unsuccessfully to save the building and turn it into a regional arts center. The Bellefonte Industrial Development Authority chose Kervandjian’s housing plan, and it was confirmed by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler.

The organization then appealed to the Commonwealth Court and was again denied after a short teleconference hearing.

But the BHCA is not done.

Manchester said the group decided Thursday night in executive session to move forward with an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

He wants to center the case around the issues like Kervandjian’s funding and tackle the issue to standing that hurt the BHCA at the local and appellate level. He said the BHCA should have standing in the case because they are an interested party, and excluding parties that don’t have a direct financial interest doesn’t open the process to public scrutiny.

He plans to file the suit by the end of the year, asking for an expedited appeal to see if the BHCA can get legal standing and ask for an injunction.