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 Auction Countdown: 24 Hours & New Info

Senator-color-adSome new bits of information come to light. Some may be considered hopeful rays of light, peeks into political machinations, others visions straight out of our worst nightmares as the we count the final hours to the city’s public foreclosure auction, tomorrow at 11am at The Senator Theatre (Note: If you find this post too long, please click here to jump to our “Bottom Line”).

From “Loyola might buy Senator Theatre at foreclosure auction” by Larry Perl of The Baltimore Messenger:

  • Loyola College said July 20 it is considering bidding to buy the Senator Theatre at a scheduled foreclosure auction July 22.
    Spokeswoman Courtney Jolley would not comment on what Loyola would use it for or how high in price Loyola would be willing to go.
    Jolley said the college is acting because it is “a committed member of the York Road community.”
    City Councilman Bill Henry, whose 4th District includes the theater, said he thinks the college might use it as a performance art, lecture and multipurpose center, with some uses for the college and some for the public.
    [Editor’s note: Uhm… Hasn’t he said over & over that no one would be coming to outbid the city?!?]
  • Also interested in operating the theater, according to pulished reports, is Baltimore-based Cordish Companies. Cordish officials could not be reached for comment.
    [Editor’s note: We haven’t heard this name mentioned since last March… Yet he said to be a longtime friend of CHAP member Bob Embry who we understand was the prime mover behind the move to apply restrictions on the interior of The Senator – at the objection of the owner & others who said such actions had (and would continue to) narrow the field of potential buyers.]
  • Kiefaber wants to create a nonprofit group to run the theater and expand its mission, with live entertainment, a liquor license and programming for area schoolchildren
    [Editor’s note: Partially correct. Kiefaber and many others, including us, believe the theatre’s ownership should be transitioned to a community-based arts, education & entertainment non-profit. Kiefaber himself has said time and again that, regardless of how this turns out, his family will no longer be owner of The Senator Theatre. A non-profit, The Senator Community Trust did form, but we’ve not had any official news from them in some time.]

From the “Response to Bill Henry” (referencing a recent letter sent to constituents by the District 4 Councilman) by Tom Kiefaber – Read the responses in their entirety via

  • What is shockingly absent from Bill’s assessment of the auction’s inherent risks is critical information that he has chosen not to acknowledge to a concerned community, information that’s asserted in a recent quote from Kim Clark, Executive Vice President of the BDC, in a recent Sun paper article.

“If someone is willing to come and bid the million dollars, that’s acceptable, and they’ll own a theater,” BDC executive director Kimberly Clark said. “We’ll work with those folks on an outcome that’s best for the community.”

Clark said she has heard from at least two prospective bidders — one from Maryland, one from outside the state — with the financial wherewithal to pay at least the minimum price for the theater. Plus, she said: “I’m hearing from other parties that they have been contacted. There seems to be definite interest out there.”

Note that this is yet another instance where the official story keeps changing, but few people are motivated and able to follow the contradictory twists and turns. This straightforward quote by Ms. Clark predicts a probable outcome to the auction that is diametrically opposed to the reassuring scenario Bill describes to his constituents. Note that Ms. Clark directly states on the record that she has recently spoken directly to interested parties with “the financial wherewithal” that she fully expects to be bidders on 7/22. So what happened in the past three weeks since Clark announced this in the Sun, and why is Bill Henry saying the exact opposite?[-Tom Kiefaber]

  • [Regarding the possibility of a church group bidding at auction]
    We’re not attorneys, but we wouldn’t want to be a lawyer or politician decreeing to a religious organization that an historic theatre it owns is in fact no longer a theatre, as a ruse to cancel the long term critical parking easement for The Senator Theatre. Desperate attempts to sever parking easements and impose other restrictions after the fact would in all probability ignite controversial and highly charged church vs. state battles, to the detriment of all concerned. It’s a lose/lose scenario, but so far no one but us is raising the issue.
    The last public comments by Councilman Henry on this subject that we know of were made at a recent YRP meeting, where Bill assured all concerned that David Cordish had told the Mayor’s office that he would handle the situation, because Cordish controls The Senator’s parking easement. Why Councilman Henry chose that recent public opportunity to invoke Mr. Cordish and put his name on the record in relation to these controversial matters remains a mystery. [-Tom Kiefaber]
    [Editor’s note: Hmm… Mr. Cordish’s name mentioned twice in as many days. Coincidence? And no one available for comment?]
  • Live entertainment restrictions – The Senator Theater is zoned B-2-2, as is most of the York Road commercial corridor. While this zoning permits a wide range of business uses, live entertainment is not one of them. Yes, there have been live concerts at the Senator many times over the years; regardless, they are technically not permitted by the current zoning. I suspect that the City has turned a blind eye towards enforcement over the years because the primary use was within the law – the live concerts were only occasional and never caused any problems… [-Bill Henry]The assessment above is more ill-advised municipal advance planning by restriction and overt manipulation of zoning regulations. It seems to come quite naturally to the politicos as a handy port in a storm, whenever a desperate fix to a bungled action is needed after the fact.
    It’s also worth noting that the BDC’s RFP for The Senator, to be issued after the auction, but only if the city retains ownership, includes specific guidelines stipulating that the new owner or operator must include a wide variety of live performance programming in their proposal. Go figure. [-Tom Kiefaber]
  • Deferred maintenance and renovation costs
    Note also that the city is acting as substitute trustee for the bank in this auction process. As such, the city has a regulated mandate to use reasonable efforts to maximize the sale price of The Senator Theatre, which is private property. In publicly talking down the value and condition of the theatre without the proper documentation to back it up as a city representative, Councilman Henry may well in be in technical violation of the city’s fiduciary obligations as trustee. [-Tom Kiefaber]
  • Balto. City owned Mayfair Theatre

    Balto. City owned Mayfair Theatre

    The Nightmare Scenario #1 – The Mayfair Theatre

    We know from the city’s handling of its ownership of The Mayfair Theatre, which they acquired and then shamefully allowed its demolition by neglect to occur, that Baltimore’s track record with its historic properties is dismal, and that was before the recession. [-Tom Kiefaber]
    Photos of The Mayfair Theatre can be seen here & in the film short Baltimore: A City of Theatres.

  • The Nightmare Scenario #2 – The Real Estate Speculator
    We fervently feel that the possibility of a real estate speculator is the one big fat glaring scenario that could soon prove to be the most problematic at the auction sale. Our fears in this regard were recently compounded the other day with a visitor to the theatre who wanted to look around before the upcoming auction. He arrived out of the blue, quickly scoped out the theatre, and expressed no interest at all in touring the projection booth or even going up to the art deco mezzanine level, for that matter.

    The Senator Theatre: closed & boarded shut

    The Senator Theatre: closed & boarded shut

    On the way out, when asked about his interest and why he rushed the nickel tour with change left over, he briefly described an extremely scary scenario. He claimed that in Baltimore we think small, we often don’t know what we have here in town and its potential value to others, and that if he bought the building for a million and shut it down, boarded it up and set a sale price at two million, after “they” realized they were not in a position to take it from him, he’d get his price because some “public/private” partnership or group would be forced to ultimately raise the funds in desperation to purchase the theatre and get it reopened. He spit out that nightmare scenario and left us standing with our jaws hanging open. [-Tom Kiefaber]

  • The state, facing the probability of having their position disappear on Wednesday, as predicted by Bill Henry (but not the BDC according to Ms. Clark), may have otherwise preferred to help further the non-profit conversion of The Senator by potentially converting their lien to a grant, if it served to facilitate a bona fide, non-profit conversion. That’s not known, however, because the city is not communicating with the applicable state representatives, and to the best of our knowledge, has never even asked the state if they would be willing to do so. The BDC clearly does not want to deal with the state as a respected partner in determining the fate of The Senator Theatre, which wouldn’t exist if not for the state, my family, and past contributors, and instead, the state’s interest is getting kicked to the curb at auction. Why is that?
    Another key factor to be aware of from our perspective, is that the State of Maryland economic development agencies are demonstrably far beyond the city in their hands-on understanding of the Main Street commercial dynamic… unlike the city, which has a disgraceful record of repeated failure in that regard. So what is going on?

Not as brief as we normally like to be (and these are excerpts!), but some food for thought. Just don’t think too long.

Bottom Line:

  1. The theatre goes to auction tomorrow at 11AM.
  2. If you don’t like the idea of an unknown entity
    OR the city walking away with ownership,

    contact Maryland and Baltimore City officials to let them know – TODAY.
    Tell them you want the city & state
    (who stands to lose their entire investment) to work out a way to transition the theatre to a community-based non-profit instead.

Baltimore City

Hon. Sheila Dixon, Mayor
100 N. Holliday St., Rm. 400
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Andy Frank, Deputy Mayor 

Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Pres. City Council
Baltimore City Council, City Hall
100 N. Holliday St., Rm. 400
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Bill Henry, 4th District Council Representative
410-396-4830 OFFICE
410-303-8838 CELL
Local District Office: 5225 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212 

Kim Clark, Executive Vice President
Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC)
36 South Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201 

William L. Beckford, Director of Commercial Revitalization
36 S. Charles St., Ste 1600
Baltimore, MD 21201 

Kristy Taylor,
Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, Northeast Baltimore


Governor Martin O’Malley
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland
FAX: 410-974-3275 

State Senator Joan Carter Conway, District 43
Miller Senate Office Building, 2 West Wing
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3145,
(301) 858-3145

Delegate Maggie Macintosh, District 43
House Office Building, Room 251
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Delegate Ann Marie Doory, District 43
House Office Building, Room 131
12 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
FAX: 410-323-0401 

Delegate Curt Anderson, District 43
House Office Building, Room 314
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Terrell Warren, District Court Coordinator,
State's Attorney Office, Northern District


Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator's Office
503 Hart Office Building, Washington D.C., 20510
Phone: (202) 224-4654 / Fax: (202) 224-8858

Benjamin L. Cardin, US Senator
509 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

John Sarbanes, U.S. Representative
426 Cannon HOB
Washington D.C. 20515
PH: (202) 225-4016
FX: (202) 225-9219 

Elijah E. Cummings, U.S. Representative
2235 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington , D.C. , 20515
Phone:   (202) 225-4741
Fax:   (202) 225-3178 

Charles A. Ruppersberger, US Representative
Washington Office
2453 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-2002
202-225-3061 phone
202-225-3094 fax

CHAP & “Buzz”… Coincidence?

Update: AstroGirl’s Galaxy Guide take

When I’d heard that the Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation (CHAP) had posted a notice that they planned to designate The Senator’s interior as a “Landmark” and “Public Interior Special List”, I initially thought this would be a good idea. After all, my understanding is that such would prevent a future owner from changing the theatre into something other than a theatre. However, when I started to look into CHAP, I found something interesting…

Senator CHAP notice

Senator CHAP notice

Among the commissioners serving I came across the name James “Buzz” Cusack… And I knew I’d seen that name recently, but it took me a moment to realize that it was in relation to The Senator.

Mr. Cusack was identified as one of the potential bidders in a Baltimore Sun article of March 13, 2009.

So, the man who runs The Charles Theatre is:

  1. Interested in buying The Senator?
  2. Has influence in a group that could apply restrictions to the property that would probably thin-out the number of other potential bidders?

Anyone else smell something fishy here? Like “conflict of interest” at least?

On top of that I found something else that seems odd about the “application” for these designations. The current owner of The Senator, I understand, did NOT submit the application. And, I’m no lawyer, but in reading the Baltimore City Landmarks & Commission Ordinance document (on the CHAP site), it sounds to me that these designations are only to be applied to “public” areas… Last I heard The Senator was privately owned.

I’d appreciate it, if anyone could comment on this as well!