Prepared testimony on behalf of The Senator Theatre by Tom Harris follows.
The audio and some video of the hearing can be found on YouTube!
To items in which CHAP chose to respond, that text appears in blue, italicized format.
Good afternoon commissioners. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
My name is Tom Harris and I’m a long time patron, volunteer & advocate for The Senator Theatre.
I’ve been a patron of The Senator since the mid-80’s. As I have related to friends, family & even passing acquantances, not only is this theatre the only one in which I have never encountered a problem while watching a motion picture, but I challenge anyone to find the same sense of atmosphere & welcome as I have in 20 years visiting this theatre.
In 2007 when the theatre’s finances were in dire straits I was encouraged by CHAP’s move to protect the facade of my favorite movie house. I’d already lost my childhood favorite, The Grand Theatre, in the Canton/Highlandtown area, to demolition. And, initially I was heartened by the announcement of these newest proposals.
However, I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing these moves with theatre staff as well as other patrons, community & business association members. I now wonder what true benefit can come of these, should they pass.
I welcome the board to correct & enlighten me, but it is now my understanding that the following points are true:
1) Requests for such protection from CHAP are to be initiated by the owner of the target property, in this case Mr. Thomas Kiefaber, yet, Mr. Kiefaber did not request this action.
2) The “Special List” designation would removes historical tax credits that would otherwise be available & I don’t see how this serves the best interests of the next owner.
Only buildings on The Special List & no other are ineligible for tax credit consideration. The Senator is also on the Landmark list, so it is still eligible.
3) The theatre is the ONLY building in the city that has ever been targeted for the “Interior – Special List”
4) Any changes desired by the next owner, beyond simple maintenance, would first require an application and approval from this board, who could take up to half a year to reach a decision.
CHAP: Reviews applications in a prompt, timely manner. If an application is not approved, required permits for the proposed project will not be issued for 6 months.
5) Mr. Kiefaber has a 20 year record of fighting to preserve his grandfather’s nearly 70 year old theatre. If this board does indeed wield the power to impose these restrictions without consent of the property owner, without consent of the members of its neighborhood, its community, I am prompted to ask, “Why is the need for action so immediate”?
Given all this, it came as no real surprise to discover that not one, but TWO prospective buyers, already in negotiations with Mr.
Kiefaber at the time this proposal was announced, saw these as very negative developments and thus their interest in saving the theatre evaporated.
We are left now with the mayor’s plan to purchase the theatre. A plan that necessitates using taxpayer money in our current economic situation, as the only foreseeable hope to save this “jewel in the city’s crown” as a historical, cultural, community, arts & education venue.
For that matter, if the city plan succeeds & becomes the next owner of The Senator. I believe the intention is to either sell or lease
the theatre to a qualified operator… Is there any reason that these proposals won’t have the same negative affect on the next round of potential owners or operators?
The city, as owner of the once vital Mayfair Theatre on Howard Street, wasn’t able to find a qualified owner or operator even without restrictions on the interior.
In1996 the roof collapsed, crashing all the way through to the basement and it has sat in ruin for more than a decade. Finally, I believe someone is finally going to renovate it, but as apartments & retail space, not as a film or arts venue. This is not the fate I nor anyone to whom I have spoken wish to see this history passed on to The Senator.