SENATOR Theatre may reopen as early as October

Excerpts from Coming Soon: New owner begins renovating historic Senator Theatre by Larry Perl, Baltimore Messenger:

Two weeks after the city approved renovation plans and a lease agreement, Cusack walked around the Senator with Hampden-based engineering consultant Michael Walkley on Aug. 27…

In addition to building a second theater and restaurants, Cusack plans to renovate the current auditorium with all new seats. He expects overall renovations, including the second theater and restaurants, to take nine months, but he plans to reopen the theater as soon as October, even while construction is going on, at the request of the city.

He said he is already looking for a first-run movie to book.

“Everybody seems to want to open it now,” Cusack said. “We’ll have to close it when we (redo) the auditorium.”

SENATOR Theatre Auction: Unnecessary Sideshow Atmosphere?

For your consideration – It is our understanding that:

  1. The Auctioneer requested (well ahead of time) that owner, Tom Kiefaber allow the auction to take place inside the theatre.
    They expected a large turnout (knowing it would draw many individuals that would not bid, but would want to witness the event) and having an air-conditioned 900 seat auditorium on hand seemed to be a good solution.
  2. The owner agreed.
  3. The owner contacted City officials (well ahead of time), who also agreed.
  4. Many people did indeed arrive at the theatre, came inside and were milling around.
  5. Auction crowd spills onto York Rd. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis / July 22, 2009)

    Auction crowd spills onto York Rd. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis / July 22, 2009)

    Minutes before the auction was to begin, a city official informed the auctioneer that the venue was to be moved outside, onto the sidewalk in front of the theatre.

    Police called to handle potential safety hazard (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh)

    Police called to handle potential safety hazard (Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh)

  6. Given the large number of people, the crowd spilled into the street causing a potential traffic/safety hazard, so city police apparently had to be called in to perform crowd control.
  7. Owner Tom Kiefaber tried to get everyone to calm down and come back into the theatre for the auction to take place, but to no avail.
  8. While some shouted they could not hear the auctioneer and were told to move closer,  auctioneer staff were heard telling media camera crews to take a steps back.
    With such a large and now packed collection of bodies/cameras this was not what you’d call an optimal situation.
  9. We could find no one who could or would give a reasonable answer as to why this last minute change and the resulting confusion, disgust and raucous outcry (from some in the crowd) was at all necessary. At the very least it was a distraction. Some present said it was another chance for city officials to publicly disgrace the owner.

Bottom Line:
All the city officials had to do was let the auction take place, as planned, inside the theatre.
All this could have been avoided.

Also consider:

  • None of the aforementioned parties interested in the auction actually bid (“Buzz” Cusack, Loyola College, etc.), but many are now interested in the expected RFP process.
  • These interesting points from Baltimore Sun:
    • A staff member of the auction house, acting on behalf of an anonymous bidder, offered $800,000.
      The proceedings paused briefly while representatives from the city’s law department and the Baltimore Development Corp. huddled and then, when the auction resumed, counter-offered $810,000. Nobody bid higher.
    • Comptroller Joan M. Pratt was also disappointed by the result, but for different reasons. She warned that the city should have “cut its losses” and sold the theater for $800,000 to the sole bidder.
      “They should have let them have it,” Pratt said. “We know that the city does not have funds to operate, maintain and retrofit a movie theater. The city of Baltimore should not be in the business of owning movie theaters.”
    • The city’s already lean budget is expected to take another hit, with Dixon asking all of her agency heads to identify 5 percent cuts from their spending plans. Kimberly Clark, an executive vice president at the Baltimore Development Corp., said that the city will likely have to spend more money to make capital improvements to fix the theater, though she will not know how much more until the city can properly assess the building.