SENATOR Theatre Closes Tonight for Renovations

Senator Theatre marquee - 2012, Apr 3: some lights finally relit

Senator Theatre, April 2012

According to a post on the Senator’s official Facebook page the theatre will close tonight (Thursday, April 26, 2012) after the scheduled viewings of The Hunger Games. It’s said the closing is required to move forward with their renovation plans that will add three screening auditoriums to the north and south sides of the original historic building as well as a wine bar.

Those interested in details should visit the theatre’s commerical site to see the city approved floorplan and two thumbnail renderings of the completed project via the “Renovations Blog” link: http://www.thesenatortheatre.com

You can also read the most recent article about the plans: http://towson.patch.com/articles/senator-theatre-operators-improvements-coming-soon

And an “Update From The Senator Theatre” Facebook Note also provides some details:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-senator-theatre/update-from-the-senator-theatre/379632822067390

According to an administrator’s comment posted on their Facebook page, the project is expected to take 6-9 months to complete.

Update: Just after posting the following article was brought to our attention, in which The Senator is described as “a very sad theatre” by renter/operator James “Buzz” Cusack and “a complicated deal with many layers of financing” by M.J. “Jay” Brodie of the BDC.
http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/blog/real-estate/2012/04/senator-theatre-to-close-for-renovations.html

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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

Baltimore’s Senator Theatre – One Year Later

It has been more than a full year since Mr. Cusack and his daughter became the operating tenants to the city owned, internationally recognized Senator Theatre. Many Baltimoreans had high expectations that the operators of The Charles Theatre would rejuvenate and revitalize The Senator given the plans presented. However, lately I’ve been hearing from residents and patrons that the state of the theatre in the meantime has deteriorated.

Having not been in the Belvedere Square area recently I made it a point to drive past The Senator this Thursday night. I was literally stunned by just how badly the theatre looked from the street. In my 27 years as a patron of The Senator .

While I cannot call myself a close friend of longtime Senator Theatre exhibition expert and film preservationist legend William (“Bill”) Hewitt, I’ve enjoyed countless films he presented over the years. I was even more fortunate have briefly worked with him (as did my family and several others during 18th month all-volunteer period). Given this and what I’ve learned of the man from others, it’s obvious he was the consummate film exhibition professional, and, a tremendous contributor to The Senator’s fame. I am therefore comfortable stating that he would NEVER have accepted the “black-eyed” appearance The Senator Theatre now conveys in the Belvedere Square community.

Moreover, my heart and jaw dropped as I realized that this man’s “memorial”, placed on the iconic marquee, occupied the dark center section.

A recent article by Adam Bednar writes:

[Mr. Cusack] also said there’s no current maintenance being done on the building because they are waiting for state funds and city approval to begin a rehab of the structure.

If this has been the approach by the tenants toward maintenance, as it seems, what should we expect if they are not awarded government funding they expect to receive?

The citizen-owners of this Baltimore landmark, historic building advocates, film historians and preservationists alike should not only take note of the situation, but make their opinions and voices heard – via online petition, yes, but also at Baltimore City Hall. For what does it say of us if we allow this last remaining, operational, historic Baltimore movie house to be neglected – In a state in which The Senator Theatre and The League of Historic American Theatres calls home?

-Tom Harris

71 Years Ago Today The Senator Theatre Opened Its Doors

On October 5, 1939 Baltimore’s “Theatre of Distinction” opened to the public with exhibition of “Stanley and Livingstone“, starring Spencer Tracy, Nancy Kelly and Richard Greene.


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: 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: Lease Agreement @ Board of Estimates tomorrow!

FOTS has learned that the Board of Estimates meeting tomorrow (August 25, 2010) at 9AM will include a vote on the proposed lease for The Senator Theatre. What follows is an excerpt from the meeting agenda (pages 94 & 95):

BOARD OF ESTIMATES 8/25/10

Baltimore Development Corporation – Triple-Net Lease Agreement
for the Senator Theatre

ACTION REQUESTED OF B/E:
The Board is requested to approve a triple-net lease, with the Senator Theatre, LLC for the City-owned Senator Theatre, located at 5904-06 York Road. The period of the lease agreement is effective upon the date of the lease and will terminate on the lesser of 43 years from the lease date or 40 years from the date of the granting of a Certificate of Completion.
The Board is further requested to authorize the Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development to execute any ancillary documents, letters or certificates that do not change the substance of the terms of the documents, subject to review and approval by the Law Department.

AMOUNT OF MONEY AND SOURCE:
$1.00 – Annual Rent
(The first five years are payable at the execution of the agreement).

BACKGROUND/EXPLANATION:
In May 2002, the Board approved a $600,000.00 loan guarantee for the Senator Theatre. With the threat of foreclosure imminent and facing the loss of its $600,000.00 guarantee, the City purchased the Promissory Note and Mortgage on the Senator Theatre from the First Mariner Bank in May 2009. The City’s acquisition and settlement costs were $965,757.00.

Through a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued September 21, 2009, the City of Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), on behalf of the City of Baltimore, offered for sale or rent the Senator Theatre for use as a movie theatre and/or performing arts venue. The BDC received four proposals in response to the RFP. After a review and analysis process, which included a public meeting and several meetings of an Advisory Panel (comprised of business, residential and theatre advocacy groups, and City staff), the panel recommended that the City enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Privilege agreement with the Senator Theatre, LLC.

94
AGENDA

BOARD OF ESTIMATES 8/25/10
BDC – cont’d

The Senator Theatre, LLC is comprised of Mr. James Cusack and his daughter Ms. Kathleen Cusack, the owners of the Charles Theatre. Their proposal is to use the building for a single screen theatre and two food-service establishments, with the possible addition of a second screen.

The proposed capital improvements include replacement of seats, carpet, wall coverings, and curtains, and painting of ceilings and walls in the auditorium; repairs to the exterior; new or upgraded building systems including electrical service, sprinklers, boiler and roof; and construction of a restaurant on the north side of the building.

The total cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $1,650,000.00. The Senator Theatre, LLC is contributing $400,000.00 in equity; applying for $450,000.00 in Federal and State Historic Tax Credits; applying for a $100,000.00 in State Community Legacy Grant funds; and has requested a $700,000.00 loan from the Mayor and City Council. The deadline to apply for Historic Tax Credits is August 31, 2010 and in order for the Senator Theatre, LLC to qualify for these tax credits, the term of the lease must be extendable for a total of 40 years, and the lease must be executed by August 31, 2010.

The BDC conducted a City Return Analysis on the project using the total City investment of $1,665,757.00, which includes $965,757.00 in acquisition and settlement costs and the requested loan. The Net Present Value (NPV) is calculated for a 20-year period using a 6% discount rate. Based on this analysis, the projected returns to the City are revenues of $473,403.00 NPV over 20 years. The City’s 20-year Internal Rate of Return is projected to be 9%.

MBE/WBE PARTICIPATION:
The developer has signed the Commitment to Comply with the Minority and Women’s Business Enterprise Program of the City of Baltimore.
(The triple-net lease agreement has been approved by the Law Department as to form and legal sufficiency.)

95

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: 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