Senator Theatre Auction Countdown: 24 Hours & New Info

Senator-color-adSome new bits of information come to light. Some may be considered hopeful rays of light, peeks into political machinations, others visions straight out of our worst nightmares as the we count the final hours to the city’s public foreclosure auction, tomorrow at 11am at The Senator Theatre (Note: If you find this post too long, please click here to jump to our “Bottom Line”).

From “Loyola might buy Senator Theatre at foreclosure auction” by Larry Perl of The Baltimore Messenger:

  • Loyola College said July 20 it is considering bidding to buy the Senator Theatre at a scheduled foreclosure auction July 22.
    Spokeswoman Courtney Jolley would not comment on what Loyola would use it for or how high in price Loyola would be willing to go.
    Jolley said the college is acting because it is “a committed member of the York Road community.”
    City Councilman Bill Henry, whose 4th District includes the theater, said he thinks the college might use it as a performance art, lecture and multipurpose center, with some uses for the college and some for the public.
    [Editor’s note: Uhm… Hasn’t he said over & over that no one would be coming to outbid the city?!?]
  • Also interested in operating the theater, according to pulished reports, is Baltimore-based Cordish Companies. Cordish officials could not be reached for comment.
    [Editor’s note: We haven’t heard this name mentioned since last March… Yet he said to be a longtime friend of CHAP member Bob Embry who we understand was the prime mover behind the move to apply restrictions on the interior of The Senator – at the objection of the owner & others who said such actions had (and would continue to) narrow the field of potential buyers.]
  • Kiefaber wants to create a nonprofit group to run the theater and expand its mission, with live entertainment, a liquor license and programming for area schoolchildren
    [Editor’s note: Partially correct. Kiefaber and many others, including us, believe the theatre’s ownership should be transitioned to a community-based arts, education & entertainment non-profit. Kiefaber himself has said time and again that, regardless of how this turns out, his family will no longer be owner of The Senator Theatre. A non-profit, The Senator Community Trust did form, but we’ve not had any official news from them in some time.]

From the “Response to Bill Henry” (referencing a recent letter sent to constituents by the District 4 Councilman) by Tom Kiefaber – Read the responses in their entirety via

  • What is shockingly absent from Bill’s assessment of the auction’s inherent risks is critical information that he has chosen not to acknowledge to a concerned community, information that’s asserted in a recent quote from Kim Clark, Executive Vice President of the BDC, in a recent Sun paper article.

“If someone is willing to come and bid the million dollars, that’s acceptable, and they’ll own a theater,” BDC executive director Kimberly Clark said. “We’ll work with those folks on an outcome that’s best for the community.”

Clark said she has heard from at least two prospective bidders — one from Maryland, one from outside the state — with the financial wherewithal to pay at least the minimum price for the theater. Plus, she said: “I’m hearing from other parties that they have been contacted. There seems to be definite interest out there.”

Note that this is yet another instance where the official story keeps changing, but few people are motivated and able to follow the contradictory twists and turns. This straightforward quote by Ms. Clark predicts a probable outcome to the auction that is diametrically opposed to the reassuring scenario Bill describes to his constituents. Note that Ms. Clark directly states on the record that she has recently spoken directly to interested parties with “the financial wherewithal” that she fully expects to be bidders on 7/22. So what happened in the past three weeks since Clark announced this in the Sun, and why is Bill Henry saying the exact opposite?[-Tom Kiefaber]

  • [Regarding the possibility of a church group bidding at auction]
    We’re not attorneys, but we wouldn’t want to be a lawyer or politician decreeing to a religious organization that an historic theatre it owns is in fact no longer a theatre, as a ruse to cancel the long term critical parking easement for The Senator Theatre. Desperate attempts to sever parking easements and impose other restrictions after the fact would in all probability ignite controversial and highly charged church vs. state battles, to the detriment of all concerned. It’s a lose/lose scenario, but so far no one but us is raising the issue.
    The last public comments by Councilman Henry on this subject that we know of were made at a recent YRP meeting, where Bill assured all concerned that David Cordish had told the Mayor’s office that he would handle the situation, because Cordish controls The Senator’s parking easement. Why Councilman Henry chose that recent public opportunity to invoke Mr. Cordish and put his name on the record in relation to these controversial matters remains a mystery. [-Tom Kiefaber]
    [Editor’s note: Hmm… Mr. Cordish’s name mentioned twice in as many days. Coincidence? And no one available for comment?]
  • Live entertainment restrictions – The Senator Theater is zoned B-2-2, as is most of the York Road commercial corridor. While this zoning permits a wide range of business uses, live entertainment is not one of them. Yes, there have been live concerts at the Senator many times over the years; regardless, they are technically not permitted by the current zoning. I suspect that the City has turned a blind eye towards enforcement over the years because the primary use was within the law – the live concerts were only occasional and never caused any problems… [-Bill Henry]The assessment above is more ill-advised municipal advance planning by restriction and overt manipulation of zoning regulations. It seems to come quite naturally to the politicos as a handy port in a storm, whenever a desperate fix to a bungled action is needed after the fact.
    It’s also worth noting that the BDC’s RFP for The Senator, to be issued after the auction, but only if the city retains ownership, includes specific guidelines stipulating that the new owner or operator must include a wide variety of live performance programming in their proposal. Go figure. [-Tom Kiefaber]
  • Deferred maintenance and renovation costs
    Note also that the city is acting as substitute trustee for the bank in this auction process. As such, the city has a regulated mandate to use reasonable efforts to maximize the sale price of The Senator Theatre, which is private property. In publicly talking down the value and condition of the theatre without the proper documentation to back it up as a city representative, Councilman Henry may well in be in technical violation of the city’s fiduciary obligations as trustee. [-Tom Kiefaber]
  • Balto. City owned Mayfair Theatre

    Balto. City owned Mayfair Theatre

    The Nightmare Scenario #1 – The Mayfair Theatre

    We know from the city’s handling of its ownership of The Mayfair Theatre, which they acquired and then shamefully allowed its demolition by neglect to occur, that Baltimore’s track record with its historic properties is dismal, and that was before the recession. [-Tom Kiefaber]
    Photos of The Mayfair Theatre can be seen here & in the film short Baltimore: A City of Theatres.

  • The Nightmare Scenario #2 – The Real Estate Speculator
    We fervently feel that the possibility of a real estate speculator is the one big fat glaring scenario that could soon prove to be the most problematic at the auction sale. Our fears in this regard were recently compounded the other day with a visitor to the theatre who wanted to look around before the upcoming auction. He arrived out of the blue, quickly scoped out the theatre, and expressed no interest at all in touring the projection booth or even going up to the art deco mezzanine level, for that matter.

    The Senator Theatre: closed & boarded shut

    The Senator Theatre: closed & boarded shut

    On the way out, when asked about his interest and why he rushed the nickel tour with change left over, he briefly described an extremely scary scenario. He claimed that in Baltimore we think small, we often don’t know what we have here in town and its potential value to others, and that if he bought the building for a million and shut it down, boarded it up and set a sale price at two million, after “they” realized they were not in a position to take it from him, he’d get his price because some “public/private” partnership or group would be forced to ultimately raise the funds in desperation to purchase the theatre and get it reopened. He spit out that nightmare scenario and left us standing with our jaws hanging open. [-Tom Kiefaber]

  • The state, facing the probability of having their position disappear on Wednesday, as predicted by Bill Henry (but not the BDC according to Ms. Clark), may have otherwise preferred to help further the non-profit conversion of The Senator by potentially converting their lien to a grant, if it served to facilitate a bona fide, non-profit conversion. That’s not known, however, because the city is not communicating with the applicable state representatives, and to the best of our knowledge, has never even asked the state if they would be willing to do so. The BDC clearly does not want to deal with the state as a respected partner in determining the fate of The Senator Theatre, which wouldn’t exist if not for the state, my family, and past contributors, and instead, the state’s interest is getting kicked to the curb at auction. Why is that?
    Another key factor to be aware of from our perspective, is that the State of Maryland economic development agencies are demonstrably far beyond the city in their hands-on understanding of the Main Street commercial dynamic… unlike the city, which has a disgraceful record of repeated failure in that regard. So what is going on?

Not as brief as we normally like to be (and these are excerpts!), but some food for thought. Just don’t think too long.

Bottom Line:

  1. The theatre goes to auction tomorrow at 11AM.
  2. If you don’t like the idea of an unknown entity
    OR the city walking away with ownership,

    contact Maryland and Baltimore City officials to let them know – TODAY.
    Tell them you want the city & state
    (who stands to lose their entire investment) to work out a way to transition the theatre to a community-based non-profit instead.

Baltimore City

Hon. Sheila Dixon, Mayor
100 N. Holliday St., Rm. 400
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Andy Frank, Deputy Mayor 

Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Pres. City Council
Baltimore City Council, City Hall
100 N. Holliday St., Rm. 400
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Bill Henry, 4th District Council Representative
410-396-4830 OFFICE
410-303-8838 CELL
Local District Office: 5225 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212 

Kim Clark, Executive Vice President
Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC)
36 South Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201 

William L. Beckford, Director of Commercial Revitalization
36 S. Charles St., Ste 1600
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Kristy Taylor,
Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, Northeast Baltimore


Governor Martin O’Malley
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland
FAX: 410-974-3275 

State Senator Joan Carter Conway, District 43
Miller Senate Office Building, 2 West Wing
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3145,
(301) 858-3145

Delegate Maggie Macintosh, District 43
House Office Building, Room 251
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Delegate Ann Marie Doory, District 43
House Office Building, Room 131
12 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
FAX: 410-323-0401 

Delegate Curt Anderson, District 43
House Office Building, Room 314
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Terrell Warren, District Court Coordinator,
State's Attorney Office, Northern District


Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator's Office
503 Hart Office Building, Washington D.C., 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4654 / Fax: (202) 224-8858

Benjamin L. Cardin, US Senator
509 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

John Sarbanes, U.S. Representative
426 Cannon HOB
Washington D.C. 20515
PH: (202) 225-4016
FX: (202) 225-9219 

Elijah E. Cummings, U.S. Representative
2235 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington , D.C. , 20515
Phone:   (202) 225-4741
Fax:   (202) 225-3178 

Charles A. Ruppersberger, US Representative
Washington Office
2453 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-2002
202-225-3061 phone
202-225-3094 fax

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Okay, I’ve been haunted by the images of The Mayfair from the City of Theatres video, but now this Nightmare #2 (and the associated picture, which I recall being at The Senator) has officially has horrified me.
    And what is it with our elected officials??? I mean you read some things and you think this whole thing is being orchestrated for someone standing in the shadows, then you read others and it sounds like the right hand doesn’t have a clue what the left is doing?!
    I pray to God that somebody with a brain and a sense of value for history and the arts shows up tomorrow and saves the place from the inane end that’s being painted!

  2. As someone who loves the Senator, I am disgusted by the name-calling and conspiracy theories I see on this blog. Anyone who expects to be treated with respect, while treating others with disrespect, is really crazy.

    I’m amazed that this blog writer can, on one hand, talk about how the state stands to lose its investment, and then on the other hand, suggest that the state convert the lien to a grant– um, HELLO, wouldn’t that be losing the ENTIRE investment? Why should the State of Maryland pay off Tom Kiefaber’s loan, and then convert it into a grant?? Nobody’s paying off MY mortgage.

    Regarding “Nightmare Scenario #2” (I do appreciate the author’s flair for the dramatic), nowhere did Tom Kiefaber say that this alleged “visitor” to the theater was actually an real estate investor, or planned to participate in the auction at all… merely that he toured the place and then suggested that ‘someone’ could buy it and hold it for ransom. I could have toured the theater and said the same thing, it doesn’t mean that I have the wherewithal or the desire to buy the theater.

    I had to smile at the statement “Kiefaber wants to create a nonprofit group to run the theater.” Um, hasn’t he been running it non-profitably for quite some time now?

    • Dear Stu,
      First of all, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to make your opinions known and for expressing, in your own way, support of The Senator. We sincerely wish more visitors would take the time to do so – particularly those in places of authority in this matter. An open dialogue always better and something we had hoped we would have from the get go. Alas, it did not.

      Now, to address your concerns:
      Respect: In our day this is something that had to be earned, yet we were taught to at least give the benefit of the doubt when encountering people, especially those in ‘authority’ – we feel we have done this from the beginning. However, as time has passed and questions have been answered in ways that don’t seem to jibe or were ignored outright, at least some of said benefit has worn away and very little, if any, respect gained. I’m afraid we’ve come to feel that many of the officials involved (well, okay – all officials, especially those elected) would greatly benefit from watching Frank Capra films before taking their positions of office (“You Can’t Take It With You”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, and “It’s A Wonderful Life”).
      As far as name-calling, we don’t recall doing that… The vast majoritiy of this edition’s content are extracts lifted from a letter from Tom Kiefaber in response one sent by Councilman Henry. Each author is noted and while we’ve raised questions, we don’t see name calling on our part.

      MD’s loan ‘conversion’:
      We don’t consider this a loss if it were forgiven for the sake of advancing the transition of ownership community-based non-profit vision. They’re going to lose it today in the auction anyway. Why not then for something positive?

      Nightmare Scenarios:
      Thanks for the compliment, but this term was again borrowed from Mr. Kiefaber’s text. And you are correct that the visitor was not identified as a real estate investor/speculator, however that is the type of person who would logically engage in the scenario described by Mr. Kiefaber.

      Well, Stu the point here was to show once again how the media has gotten much only half right (and at times dead wrong), but… Hmm… Who’s doing the name-calling now? 😉

      • Thanks for the reply, but it doesn’t really answer anything that I brought up.

        Anyway, who is this “we” you keep mentioning? Are multiple people writing your messages? If not, then say “I”, because you are speaking only on behalf of yourself. It annoys me when I see “we” or “the community” on this blog (and in Tom Kiefaber’s statements, as when he says “Bill Henry refuses to meet with the community”). “The community” is more than just the people who read this blog, and I’m sure there are many in the community who feel very differently from you.

        Who are you, anyway? I see names like “friendsofthesenatortheatre” and other pseudonyms used on here– who are these people who claim to speak for “the community”??

        Name-calling: to quote Tom’s text without comment is to imply agreement, which you obviously DO agree. Examples: calling the zoning strategy a “ruse”, referring to city council members as “politicos”, etc. If I wanted this kind of biased journalism, I’d watch Fox News.

        Look. This is how I see it. And I’m someone outside the process, motivated only by a love of the Senator strong enough that it moved me to seek out a place to discuss these issues (since the discussion boards on the Senator website are remarkably silent about all of this).

        The Senator is a beautiful, historic building. I’ve loved going to see both first-run and classic films there. But, and it pains me to say it, in the end, it’s a movie theater, a business. Business at the Senator apparently hasn’t been good for a long while. Over the years I’ve seen Tom Kiefaber publicly cast the blame in lots of directions– at The Charles, at the banks, at Bill Henry– it just seems like he needs a scapegoat. When in the end, it seems like for whatever reason, a single-screen theater just can’t survive in this economy anymore.

        From what I understand, the cost of movie tickets basically all goes to the movie studios, so movie theaters make most of their profits from concessions (which probably explains why I paid 7 bucks for a medium popcorn at Landmark a few weeks ago… no joke). It’s a tough business. But it’s a business. I’m not going to fall into Tom’s trap of trying to point the finger anywhere. The facts speak for themselves, the theater was pretty much bankrupt, Tom refinanced and put his house up as collateral, and now it’s bankrupt again. Honestly, Tom is lucky not to be losing his house. If he were running another, non-historic business, he’d lose both his house and his business. So I don’t mean to be mean, but I think he’s really quite fortunate that The Senator is unique and historic enough that third parties are willing to intervene on his behalf, because if he were a regular person, he’d be up shit’s creek.

        I know that the building and the history have been part of Tom’s life growing up, but he has lost control of the whole process. If he wanted to convert it to a nonprofit, probably the right time to do that would have been before he was in these desperate financial straits. At this point, it just may be too late.

        You won’t agree with me, “friendsofthesenatortheatre”, but I think Tom has been fortunate that the city stepped in when it did, because he would have lost both his house and the theater if the bank had been free to foreclose. That’s what foreclosure is, they take the property and the collateral. I understand that Tom is not happy that he’ll no longer have control of the property, and that’s sad. I feel for him. But The Senator isn’t a charity (even though I and many others sent money on one of the previous occasions when foreclosure was imminent), it’s a business. This is what happens when businesses go under. It’s sad.

  3. Stu- How many of those “free” parties did Bill Henry invite you to? Other than this, I’ve never see you there. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume the things you’re assuming either in terms of the history and the pattern and the folks involved over the years. Fair to say that as an outsider, you are naturally not aware of these things. I can definitely respect this. However, I was directly involved in several situations with Mr Henry over the last 17 years that speak volumes in terms of his character, integrity and his honesty.

  4. Gayle, you have an unpleasant habit of personally attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with you. For someone who accuses others of “assuming”, you certainly seem to do an awful lot of it yourself. 🙂

    Gayle, are you suggesting that because you don’t remember seeing me at the Senator, that I haven’t gone? I’m not sure why you believe you would remember seeing me personally, since we’ve never been introduced in person. I have seen your dogs running around there on many occasions though.

    also not sure what “free parties” you’re talking about. I’ve paid every time I’ve gone to the Senator. I also donated money to the Senator in 2007 to avoid “First Mariner’s aggressive foreclosure” (Tom’s words), when the bank had scheduled a foreclosure auction for 2/21/07.

    I am an outsider only in the sense that I don’t volunteer at the Senator as you do, Gayle. I have a different perspective from yours but it’s no less valid. We are both “friends of the Senator”.

    • Stu-Have you been following me? You say I have an unpleasant habit of personally attacking anyone who doesn’t agree with me. It’s like looking into a mirror don’t you think? When something or someone is simply wrong, or ill informed about the facts of a situation, sure. I feel very passionate about delivering the truth. Can you tell me in specifics what exactly you feel I’ve made assumptions about? I am simply trying to say that had you nhad any direct involvement with the theatre in the last 17 or so years, we would have come to know one another as I’ve come to know hundreds of regulars over the years. Simply going to the theatre for a show, a party, etc. does not provide you the opportunity to make assumptions in terms of your perception of things. Not that your thoughts and feeling re: The Senator don’t matter, it’s just that myself and others who have been directly involved are able to provide more valid commentary and such. Just that your perspective comes from a very distant place is all. 😦

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