SENATOR Theatre RFP: Mayor wants “a period on that” while ignoring the real issues

WYPR - Midday with Dan Rodricks with Mayor Rawlings-BlakeAs stated by Dan Rodricks yesterday on WYPR’s Midday radio show, Baltimore City’s Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has had to face a $121 million budget shortfall, problems  with a $65 million pension system for the city’s first responders and an $870,000 lawsuit settlement (dealing with zero tolerance police issues under then Mayor Martin O’Malley).

To deal with with these issues citizens and visitors face increased taxes and fees, while city employees face layoffs.

This kind of economic crunch is not just a problem in Baltimore, to be sure. But, given all this we have to question, more than ever, the administration’s wisdom regarding the historic Senator Theatre’s future.

  • On at least three occasions the input of historic theatre redevelopment experts have been refused and/or completely ignored – twice by the BDC and once by the mayor’s office!
  • The plan to be approved returns The Senator Theatre to a proven failed programming format. The same that many pointed to as leading to the theatre’s foreclosure last year: first run movies
  • On top of the nearly $1 million already invested by Baltimore City to acquire The Senator at foreclosure, the “winning” plan is expected to request in upwards of $1 million in additional taxpayer moneyall going to a private business, not a non-profit.
    A bargain for sure for the Cusack’s, but a significant financial risk for Baltimore City!

We’ve advocated for over a year (and it should be noted that Mr. Kiefaber, former owner of the theatre, even longer) that The Senator’s best chance to return to its role as an economic engine for North Baltimore is to be handed over to a non-profit organization who can raise funds (from more sources available than private business), can draw on expertise to operate this internationally recognized landmark as a multipurpose venue with a variety of programming that will bring a wider, diversified audience to the area.

Keeping that all this in mind, consider the following exchange between WYPR’s Midday host, Dan Rodricks and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake from yesterday’s program (FOTS Editors’ notes have been entered at key points):

Rodricks: Here’s another question about economic development from Laura:

“The Baltimore Development Corporation recently announced that you approved the agency’s selection of The Charles Theatre operator to take over The Senator Theatre. Do you in fact endorse that plan of action? If so, how do you justify the taxpayer’s investment of a million dollars, so far, in acquiring this historic venue?”
[Ed. note: We now know that the second half of this question was not even presented, because it asked about the additional taxpayer funding the plan expects to receive]

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:

“I don’t know in my time on the council…to being Mayor, there’s been an economic development project that  I have received more emails about than The Senator Theatre. It was a very complete process.
[Ed. note:  To the contrary. Expert input was ignored several times, even by the mayor’s senior staff!]
It was a transparent, open process.
[Ed: Records used by the BDC have not been released to the public, because it would prove they ignored expert input and questions concerning Robert Embry and Jay Brodie’s meeting with Towson University’s president just before WTMD withdrew from contention.
Additionally, the mayor’s office ignored a free consultation offered by an award-winning historic theatre redevelopment expert! FOTS leaders personally provided the contact information to the mayor and her senior staff in a face-to-face meeting  in early May where we were assured they would take advantage of the offer before making a decision]

“Uhm, Mr. Cusack had the winning proposal and we’re moving forward.
[Ed: Incorrect. His was the last remaining proposal – there is a huge difference! At that point, on our opinion, the RFP should have been restarted. Not only because we should not settle for “what’s left”, but because the plan did not stand up to expert scrutiny!]

I think there are so many people who have an emotional attachment and uh, are probably friendly with Mr. Kiefaber and want him to keep it no matter what.
[Ed: Yes. Because they care about The Senator and its future in the community. Any friendship with the former owner is irrelevant and was not our message. Nor was it from the hundreds we heard from who sent the emails. The overall driving message was that hands-on historical redevelopment expertise should be utilized to guide the whole process!]

But, that’s just not possible and we’ve certainly, uh,  danced that dance under very many administrations and now, you know, you and I talked about putting a period at that law suit, we’re putting a period on that relationship and moving forward. And I’m very encouraged.”
[Ed: Putting “a period” on the relationship with Kiefaber is not the point.
We sincerely wish officials AND the media stop making Kiefaber the crux of the argument! Focus on the TRUE issue: The viable, sustainable future of The Senator Theatre and what it could mean to the North Baltimore community!]

Rodricks: With all those emails you mentioned, did anyone express lack of support investing in The Senator?

Mayor: Mmmm…

Rodricks: Or was most of the mail suggestions on who should be running it? How it should be operated?
[Ed: Yes, indeed, many did, particularly those from FOTS members! Non-profit, multipurpose, arts, education, entertainment (including, but not exclusively movies)…]

Mayor: Suggestions on how to keep mr. Kiefaber there.
[Ed: Have to admit here our patience with this nonsense is really tested]

Rodricks: In place.

Mayor: Right, Yeah.

Sorry madam mayor. Either you weren’t given all of the incoming emails or we have to think that you are not truly representing the sentiments of the vast majority that were sent in.

The bottom line is that this issue is not about keeping Tom Kiefaber in The Senator Theatre.
The issues ARE about accountability of government (and pseudo-government) officials and transparency to the public in their dealings. Especially when spending taxpayer money on deals that are not in the best interest of those taxpayers.

Listen to the show for yourself: WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks – June 28, 2010

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Why did Tom Kiefaber not attempt to create the non-profit structure you desire back in 2008 after the community railed to save him from foreclosure? Instead, he went on record as wishing to retain his private ownership.

    Why was there not an outcry back then for movement to a non-profit model? And pressure placed on Mr.Kiefaber to explore that?

    This disconnect is one of the many factors that leaves me — and others, I’m sure — with the distinct sense that you really are backing Mr. Kiefaber. Otherwise, you’d be taking him to task for failing to act two-plus years ago, when he had control (and, as you have repeatedly asserted, the requisite experience and knowledge). Your credibility is damaged, for me, by your consistent high praise for Mr. Kiefaber and your failure to hold him accountable for in ANY way contributing to the Senator’s current circumstances.

    In my view, your lack of objectivity makes this site partisan, and at it’s core designed to support Mr. Kiefaber, rather than an impartial space for legitimate discussion about the Senator.

    I hope you understand my concern and are willing to respond to it.


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