Baltimore Westside Superblock Developers Granted 3rd Extension Despite Ignoring Preservation Agreement

Baltimore Brew‘s  reports that the City BOE has granted a four month extension to the controversial West Side project, allowing more time to complete their financing and search for tenants, after M.J. Brodie  of the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) stated headway was being made.  On the other hand it appears they ignored Johns Hopkins, executive director of the historic preservation group, Baltimore Heritage who says the “Superblock” developers have not been honoring an agreement on historic preservation.

Considering the recent concerns over the current condition of The Senator Theatre, the portion of the article regarding the planned restoration of Read’s Drug Store, the site of a 1955 Civil Rights sit-in, may be most interesting – and worrisome:

Separately, the city said it would proceed with installing a temporary roof on the Read’s building, whose interior timber framing has partially collapsed from years of water leakage.

The roof, however, is not expected to be installed until late spring or early summer, leading CHAP commissioner Larry Gibson to wonder whether the building itself might fall down. “Demolition by neglect is a specialty in this city,” he said.

An engineering consultant said that was unlikely because the steel beams and exterior masonry walls appeared to be in satisfactory condition. The temporary roof on the city-owned building would cost about $550,000.

Although the engineering consultant makes it sound like demolition is unlikely, it’s hard to ignore that the neglect led to Read’s roof collapse and it’s much more costly to reconstruct as opposed to preventative maintenance/repairs, especially when you’re talking about proper restoration to an historic structure.

The Senator Theatre, Dec. 12, 2011So, while it’s hoped that the City and The Senator’s current operators will see the wisdom of making an honest and visible effort to reverse the effects of deferred maintenance, once again, I encourage those who understand the significance of the internationally recognized Senator Theatre, the last historic, operational movie house in Baltimore City, to sign this online petition:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/help-the-senator-theatre/

Let those in control that it’s not just a handful of “historic theatre nuts” (or “sore losers” as some of us have been labeled) who are disappointed with the year-long decline which can no longer be ignored. Former mayor/governor/state comptroller understood the importance of history and our historic buildings. Now the rest of us need to stand up, for the Senator and for Baltimore’s historic Westside.

-Tom Harris

SENATOR Theatre to reopen Oct 15 with 1st run films, starting with action/comedy “RED”

At a public meeting last night, Buzz and Kathleen Cusack announced that the theatre will indeed reopen to the public next Friday (October 15, 2010) as a first run movie house. The first film to screen will be “Red“, starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise-Parker, Helen Mirren and others.

Showtimes were not announced, but can be expected to be listed on the new Senator website (http://thesenatortheatre.com) when it launches, as early as 5pm today. Ticket prices announced were $7.50 for matinees (shows starting before 6pm) and $9 for shows beginning after 6pm.

Senator Theatre outer lobby original paneling

Outer lobby paneling

In regard to renovations, the 100 or so attendees got a first-hand look (and touch) of the recently uncovered original wood paneling in the outer lobby and the likewise inner lobby ceiling mural. Sadly, the latter is covered with so many globs of adhesive (used to anchor the suspensions for the acoustic tiles that were recently removed) that it is intimated to be beyond repair.

The Cusacks, who operate The Charles Theater, also displayed plans for expected additions of a full service restaurant (on the north side, replacing  what was an addition that housed a dry-cleaners), crepe shop and a second auditorium to be attached to the south side of the theatre, along Rosebank Avenue. Current designs for the restaurant, it was noted, would find it’s facade extending approximately 8 feet toward York Road. This would mean that the sidewalk blocks commemorating Casino Royale and the premiere of Ladder 49 would be lost. However, steps are being taken to see if they can be recreated in another location. Also noted were changes to the mens & ladies lounges and restrooms to make them ADA compliant.

It was stressed that the visuals were concepts and that plans are still in the design & development phase and pending approval from the City’s CHAP as well as state and federal officials (to qualify for historic tax credits). Construction, once begun, is expected to take 9 months to 1 year to complete. However, the Cusacks state they expect to keep The Senator open during much of that time, only to close when necessary – for instance – when replacing the main auditorium seats with new, larger models.

For those who could not attend, it was said that the slideshow would be available on the new Senator website.

Meeting media coverage:

SENATOR Theatre: rotunda restoration progress photos

From Eddie Leon (CHAP):

Here are the latest photos from the Rotunda restoration.  Original doorway detailing re-discovered.

[Click each for full size version]

Our thanks to Mr. Leon for updating us on the progress!

SENATOR Theatre RFP: CHAP Hearing Summary Letter

Below are copies of the letter sent to Alex Castro (lead architect for Buzz and Kathleen Cusack’s Senator Theatre, LLC project) officially announcing the results of the August 10 CHAP hearing. Each of the attendees to the hearing was to receive this this document by mail.

Excerpts:

The Commissioners considered the application materials you submitted, the presentation you gave at the hearing, the staff presentation, the staff report and other testimony presented at the hearing…

The Commission then made motion and determined the following:

  • Moved to approve the staff recommendation for rehabilitation of the interior and exterior with careful attention to be given by experts in the field to the evaluation of systems and structure, with study of the storage space and the addition to the front, paying particular attention to the interior features specifically landmarked, as well as the (commemorative movie) sidewalks and the men’s lounge.
  • Approval of the new addition concept and interior concept alterations as submitted with the next phase concept designs to be submitted for full commission review…

Click on each to view full size:

SENATOR Theatre: Rotunda Wall Exploratory

News from Eddie Leon (City Planner at CHAP) regarding some work currently being done at The Senator:

SENATOR Lobby b&wI was there earlier today myself to review the exploratory work that the Cusack’s are undertaking. Simply, the wall paper on the lower band has been removed in a section of the Rotunda as part of the exploratory/evaluation process. The “fish tank”/display case on the men’s room side has been removed for the time being to examine the condition of the original wood veneer walls. This exploration has also revealed one of the original poster niche’s that existed on that side. I’m very happy to report that it appears that a majority of the wood veneer is in good shape and repairable where worn down.

SENATOR Theatre RFP: CHAP Hearing Results

UPDATED (Aug. 13, 2010): Scans of CHAP Staff Report used at the meeting – see bottom of this post.

Yesterday’s CHAP hearing on The Senator Theatre was quite positive!

I want to thank everyone who attended!

It was encouraging to see so many show and endure the wait (the hearing was scheduled for 3pm, but I don’t think we actually got started until nearly 4?), especially the young man who addressed the committee stating (paraphrased):

“I think I may be the only one here not affiliated with some group.”
“I don’t know of anywhere else this [programming plan] has been successfully with an historic single screen theatre, so I hope the City will bring in experts from places where they successfully done something like this.”
“I want to bring my kids to see movies at The Senator, but I need it to be here for a while for that to happen.”

Our overriding concern for expert top-to-bottom evaluation of the building was taken into account and added to the conditions for moving forward with detailed renderings and further study of proposed changes. This was a huge relief! Our suggestion that Tom Kiefaber be included in such an inspection, because of his intimate knowledge of the building and systems was also taken.

Quick rundown of changes proposed by Alex Castro and Joe Adamczyk on behalf of Senator Theatre, LLC (James “Buzz” Cusack and Kathleen Cusack – renters/operators of The Charles Theatre & expected to be likewise at The Senator):

  • The crepe shop is now slated to occupy what is currently (largely) office & storage space. It is no longer destined for the ladies’ areas.
  • The mens’ lounge, while largely preserved would lose significant space as the north wall is proposed to be moved southward about 4ft to accommodate the revised crepe shop location.
    Part of the concern here is that the lounge is within CHAP’s protected areas & the lounge would appear as more of a hallway than a lounge. Either way, the star & moon in the mosaic floor is expected to survive.
  • No new passageways from the rotunda… Restoration was the word of the day for that area (And overall for that matter – for which I am thankful to hear!).
    Tom Kiefaber noted to the committee that an expert inspected the mural recently & suggested that the resulting suggestions for expert restoration be considered.
  • Two new storage closets to be placed against the auditorium’s back wall, right below the mezzanine level’s skyboxes.
  • The proposed Tapas restaurant facade is currently proposed to be 8ft closer to York Rd. “Further study” of this proposed extension was added as a condition to passage.
    It also raised concern about commemorative sidewalk blocks that would be affected. The committee agreed that relocation of the blocks (or alternate plan to save them) be a condition of approval.
  • A 2nd auditorium on the south side with stadium seating is now a ‘front-burner’ plan.

I hope to scan & post the handout we received at the end of the hearing that shows some additional views of the proposed additions/changes. In the meantime, the pre-meeting copy is here (PDF).

Thanks to CHAP chair Mr. Donald Kann and all of the commissioners who were present (I thought the two newest commissioners were especially on the ball, Ms. Anath Ranon and Mr. Tom Liebel).

My thanks to all of the CHAP staff, particularly Ms. Kathleen Kotarba and Mr. Eddie Leon for their cooperation and help in keeping me informed and answering my never-ending volleys of questions.

-Tom Harris

Related mass media reports:

SENATOR Theatre RFP: CHAP Hearing on August 10

Friends of The Senator (FOTS) has been alerted to a hearing called by Baltimore City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) that will review the plans proposed by James “Buzz” Cusack (who rents & operator The Charles Theatre) and his daughter, Kathleen Cusack for renovations intended for the historic Senator Theatre.

Details from the August 10 Agenda via the CHAP web site:

3:00 PM Senator Theatre

(Baltimore City Landmark-Exterior)
(Baltimore City Landmark -Interior pending)
(CHAP Special List-Interior)
Plan: Rehabilitation of exterior and interior-Concept.
City of Baltimore, Owner.
The Senator Theatre, LLC. (James Cusack and Kathleen Cusack, principals), Lessee.

Eddie Leon, Staff Presenter.
The hearing will be held in the Phoebe Stanton Conference Room of the Department of Planning, 8th Floor, 417 E. Fayette Street.

We’re informed that anyone can view the plans in advance by making an appointment with the CHAP office.
(410) 396-4866
(410) 396-PLAN (7526)
Fax: (410) 396-5662

FOTS strongly encourages anyone concerned with the future of the theatre, particularly the planned renovations, to attend this hearing if possible.

Senator Theatre RFP: Kiefaber defies hush clause. Joins FOTS in “BDC is rife with fraud & collusion”

BDC

Fraud, Collusion, Deceit

Former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber defies City Hall’s hush clause

Joins Friends of The Senator to declare BDC is rife with fraud and collusion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Baltimore, MD
July 16th, 2010

Friends of The Senator (FOTS) announced today that the 2100+ member advocacy group has denounced the Baltimore Development Corporation’s (BDC) manipulation of The Senator Theatre’s acquisition at auction on behalf of the City, and its subsequent RFP plan for the Senator Theatre, as a corrupt process rife throughout with collusion, fraud, and deceit.

The advocacy group has repeatedly implored Mayor Rawlings-Blake to investigate the allegations, based on the results of the FOTS investigative research, provided to her and her staff…

Complete text at http://www.thepeoplestheatre.us/news.html

Senator Theatre RFP: Kiefaber Responds to City Lawyer in Open Letter!

Since Special Chief City Solicitor, Larry Jenkins, chose to speak to the Daily Record, this past Monday, about plans to abruptly remove the group that was asked to maintain operations at Baltimore’s historic Senator Theatre throughout the RFP process, namely former Senator Theatre owner, Tom Kiefaber and Friends of The Senator (FOTS) volunteers, Mr. Kiefaber decided to break his silence Tuesday.

Kim Clark (BDC), Bill Henry (District 4 Councilman), Larry Jenkins (City Lawyer) & Joe Cooper (Alex Cooper Auctioneers) @ Senator auction (7/23/2009)

Up to this point, Kiefaber has been guarded in his comments and worked diligently to comply with the city’s request that he keep the lights on, the doors open and events taking place at the theatre. It’s apparent from the open letter, posted in its entirety to the Baltimore Sun news site, that this “out-of-the-blue bum’s rush to vacate the Senator Theatre premises” was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

We encourage anyone concerned about The Senator, the survival of historic theatres, similar structures or indeed the power government and developers can wield over private business and private property, to read Mr. Kiefaber’s letter.

SENATOR RFP Pre-Proposal Conference: Groups Interested Gather for Meeting

Updated: Oct 6, 4:45pm – Attendees list
Oct05_001
Yesterday, on the 70th anniversary of the opening of The Senator Theatre, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) held their scheduled pre-proposal meeting for parties that had registered their interest in the Request For Proposal (RFP) process. One of these (or a conglomeration) may ultimately become the next owner or leaser (with Baltimore City as the landlord) of the historic 1939 theatre.

We are aware of at least a dozen groups that were represented.
Locals:

Out of state groups:

It should be noted that absence of a group from yesterday’s meeting does not preclude them from submitting a proposal. The occasion created a forum in which the BDC could deliver a briefing and allow groups to pose questions about the process and tour the theatre.

Said questions we were told were being recorded and would be disseminated, with answers, on the BDC website by October 13, 2009. We’ll include a link here when the page becomes available.

We’d like to take the opportunity to thank:

  • Maryland State Senator Joan Carter Conway for attending and posing some important questions regarding timing and community involvement when proposals are to be evaluated.
  • Eddie Leon of the Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation (CHAP) for clarifying the situation regarding interior designation proposal approved by the CHAP commission back in May. Said proposals still have to gain approval during public meetings of the Baltimore City Planning Commission and then City Council before coming into effect. Mr. Leon stated that this could perhaps be completed by spring 2010.
  • Kristen Mitchell and Kim Clarke of the BDC for taking the time to present this opportunity, answer questions and for the refreshments.
  • Tom Kiefaber for providing access to this great facility for the event & to his family’s 70 years of unbroken presentation excellence.
  • Gayle Grove for the Senator Theatre 70th anniversary cake (sorry the camera phone didn’t do it justice).