After nearly three hours of discussion, the Bellefonte Borough Council voted 5-4 to demolish the historic Garman Theatre in downtown Bellefonte on Nov. 11.
More than 100 people attended the council meeting, which had been originally scheduled for Nov. 4. The special meeting was held at the Logan Fire Hall in Bellefonte because supporters of the restoration of the theatre overwhelmed the borough building’s capacity at the first meeting.
At the end of nearly three hours of discussion, debate and public comment, borough council members Wilson, Halderman, Dainty, Schneider and Beigle voted to approve the demolition of the theatre, while members Provan, Dunne, DeCusati, and Brown voted against demolition.
Despite the unfavorable vote, Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association president Keith Koch said the BHCA had already had its next move. “We have two appeals pending in Harrisburg, and we’ll be filing a stay in court this week,” he said.
More than 20 people spoke at the meeting, asking the council to reject the Progress Development Group’s request for a demolition permit.
“This vote is not about a piece of real estate — it is about the heart and soul of this town.”
— Jack LaFonde, Bellefonte resident and the first executive director of The State Theatre
PDG plans to demolish the Garman Theatre and the Hotel Do De as the initial phase of its plan to build apartments that will occupy the site of the two historic buildings as well as the Cadillac building.
Numerous residents from Bellefonte, State College and surrounding areas spoke during the public comment period.
Monteca Confer of Confer’s Jewelers presented the borough council with a petition signed by 22 downtown Bellefonte merchants who had all endorsed saving the Garman — “and 22 is all of us,” she said.
Jack LaFonde, Bellefonte resident and the first executive director of The State Theatre, said the vote was “not about a piece of real estate — it is about the heart and soul of this town.”
Nancy Noll, owner of a Bellefonte bed and breakfast, called the Garman “the future of economic development in Bellefonte.”
Bellefonte councilwoman Vana Dainty spoke out against the Garman project. Despite the overwhelming number of Garman supporters in the room, Ms. Dainty said most of the people she’d spoken to “didn’t want to save the Garman,” but instead were opposed to “fair housing.”
When asked by a member of the crowd why nobody who supported demolishing Garman was in attendance, Ms. Dainty stated that “their voices didn’t need to be heard,” because those people were confident that the borough “would follow through.”
TPG owner Ara Kervandjian spoke at the request of the council. He explained that workforce housing, which is income-based housing, is open to residents making between 60 and 100 percent of local median income.
Mr. Kervandjian also offered to make a $50,000 donation to the BHCA if the cultural association would find a different property, a proposition that BHCA board member Jonathan Eburne later dismissed as “flatly insulting.”
Mr. Kervandjian presented the council with a letter that he said was assurance that his project met the state requirements for the demolition of a historic building, and he said that funding would soon be in place.
Mr. Koch challenged PDG developer Ara Kervandjian’s confidence in his funding, saying that “if he takes one brick out [of the Garman] he’ll lose his federal funding.”
Bellefonte council votes to demolish Garman Theatre