The center of downtown Bellefonte is affectionately referred to as the diamond.
It’s the nucleus of a community that is in short walking distance of the Centre County Courthouse, Talleyrand Park, streets of restaurants and shops and small neighborhoods that outline the borough.
The town, however, has a few diamonds in the rough. Developer Ara Kervandjian hopes to make some of them — the old Cadillac Building, Hotel Do De and Garman Theatre buildings — into gems.
Each building was ravaged by fires, one that destroyed the Cadillac Building in 2009 and another that took Hotel Do De and the Garman Theatre in a single night in 2012.
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“The fact that we are seeing revitalization on these two major properties in the borough is significant to us, and it’s a great step forward in our revitalization efforts,” borough Manager Ralph Stewart said. “If we look back short-term the economy hasn’t been the best anywhere on a national level, but these are signs locally that things are turning around.”
Construction on the Cadillac House and the Garman House began this summer, a recurring theme in Bellefonte with the Centre County Court, waterfront development, Lamb Street and Route 144 projects ongoing. The Cadillac House and Garman House should be completed in the late summer of 2016.
Construction in the borough has caused congestion, but developers have said they’re working together to minimize the impact.
“We are working with every party involved in this process closely and providing all the necessary information to ensure a smooth and timely process,” said Kervandjian’s spokesman, Vinh Vuong.
“(Congestion and safety) is a concern, and we’re all trying to minimize any negative impacts with parking and sidewalks that are temporarily blocked from being accessed because of heavy construction,” Stewart said. “We’re all trying to minimize times that has to happen for pedestrians and drivers. We’re also trying to minimize any negative impacts it could have for commerce. We’re doing everything we can to make sure these good projects don’t have short-term negative impacts.”
Some in the community felt Kervandjian’s venture, called the Bellefonte Mews, would negatively impact Bellefonte’s rich history. The Garman Theatre and Hotel Do De, after all, were built in the 19th century. The Cadillac Building was a car dealership about 100 years ago.
The thought of demolishing those buildings, particularly the theater, for a fresh start drew some pressure for the Garman House project to be stopped.
“We weren’t motivated to demolish any building, especially the Garman Theatre considering its historic nature,” Vuong said. “However, the benefit of the newly constructed Garman House will provide long-lasting benefits to the Bellefonte community that the Garman Theatre could not any longer due to its unstable condition along with the Do De Hotel that had been completely destroyed by the fire.”
Borough Council approved the project earlier this year.
When it’s completed next year the Garman House will have 21 residential units and two condo suites. The Cadillac House will have 11 residential spaces, a community center, leasing office and a service office for both buildings.
“It’s a new era,” Stewart said. “At about the same time they’re done the waterfront project will be done, and we’ll be excited to see more development there. We have a lot to be excited about in the next year or two.”