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 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: 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: No Plan Finalized but City orders theatre to go dark on July 21

SENATOR Theatre in the dark

City Orders Senator Theatre volunteers to "cease all operations on the 21st under any circumstance"

BALTIMORE, July 16 /PRNewswire/ — The Baltimore Mayor’s office announced yesterday that The Senator Theatre will go dark on July 21st. The announcement is a partial response to rising concerns of North Baltimore business owners, residents, and the 2100+ member “Friends of The Senator” theatre advocacy group, regardin…g the uncertain fate of The Senator Theatre, an iconic, nationally renowned landmark showplace that has entertained and served the North Baltimore community continuously since 1939….
Full press release at: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/mayors-office-announces-baltimores-senator-theatre-must-go-dark-on-wednesday-july-21st-98589734.html

SENATOR Theatre: Look Back for Blame or Forward for Best Solution?

In response to our post two days ago (Mayor wants to “put a period on that”…), we received a reader’s comment, which requested a response.

Normally, we would simply allow legitimate, non-spam comments and then others to respond if motivated. However, this brought up a subject we felt should be more prominently addressed as it further illustrates the current tendency by the media, officials and then echoed by some individuals to look for blame in the past when the mission we immediately face is about the future.

Should we ignore the past? Absolutely not. In fact, we should learn from it, particularly when it comes to the economics of first-run film in the modern age.

From reader Andrea:

Why did Tom Kiefaber not attempt to create the non-profit structure you desire back in 2008 after the community railed to save him from foreclosure? Instead, he went on record as wishing to retain his private ownership.

Why was there not an outcry back then for movement to a non-profit model? And pressure placed on Mr.Kiefaber to explore that?

This disconnect is one of the many factors that leaves me — and others, I’m sure — with the distinct sense that you really are backing Mr. Kiefaber. Otherwise, you’d be taking him to task for failing to act two-plus years ago, when he had control (and, as you have repeatedly asserted, the requisite experience and knowledge). Your credibility is damaged, for me, by your consistent high praise for Mr. Kiefaber and your failure to hold him accountable for in ANY way contributing to the Senator’s current circumstances.

In my view, your lack of objectivity makes this site partisan, and at it’s core designed to support Mr. Kiefaber, rather than an impartial space for legitimate discussion about the Senator.

I hope you understand my concern and are willing to respond to it.

Tom Harris responds:

Dear Andrea et al.,

Thank you for your interest in The Senator Theatre situation!

We make no bones about our admiration for what Tom Kiefaber has accomplished. Whatever your opinion is regarding him personally, after researching the situation we firmly believe that without Kiefaber’s tenacity to keep The Senator alive, in spite of the deck being stacked against him and risking all (he has, after all, sunk everything he owns into keeping it open), the historic landmark theatre would have closed several years ago.

However, the message we have tried to get across, and by far more important than looking backward for faults, is about the best chance for a viable, sustainable future for The Senator, which we believe and have advocated for, is transition of the theatre to non-profit ownership.

Regarding your questions about Kiefaber and the non-profit message, the background is somewhat complicated, but for your consideration, here are just a few citations on the subject:

Baltimore City Paper “Coming Soon: The Box-Office Battle…” July 5, 2006

[Jed] Dietz has another idea that has been bandied about in recent years as a way to salvage the Senator from its revenue problems. “Tom should turn it into a nonprofit and go out and raise money,” he says. But Kiefaber says he has explored that possibility and, last fall, concluded that that route would be a “counterproductive error… primarily because of its current debt load.” Instead, a for-profit Senator may embark on “synergistic associations and alliances with nonprofit entities,” he writes.

Govanstowne Business Association – Letter to the mayor, January 13, 2009

We were pleased to learn in early 2008 that The Senator owner, Tom Kiefaber, and 4th district councilman Bill Henry met with you and Andrew Frank to discuss the economic difficulties… to explore a change of ownership and a possible conversion to not- for-profit operation.

WJZ “Owner Says Senator Theatre Facing Foreclosure“, March 11, 2009

Kai Jackson explains why years of fighting to stay in business could end in defeat.

Senator owner Tom Kiefaber had been in negotiations with the city to turn the historic theater into a non-profit community center, but the theater’s mortgage is now in default.

Tom Kiefaber’s Open Letter to Councilman Bill Henry, July 7, 2009:

You were also one of the key Steering Committee members identified to the community, who endorsed the report’s misguided assessment that no one will outbid the city’s 950K position at public auction. The related conclusion by the committee is that therefore The Senator Theatre cannot become a non-profit facility, because it would require ongoing subsidy by the city. yet you are also well aware that the local consultants you steered our way in 2008 determined along with the community that historic facilities with the attributes of the renowned Senator Theatre are readily capable of achieving sustained funding without requiring the city to continue to foot the bill once the theatre achieves non-profit ownership status.

Investigative Voice “Radio Station or Restaurant?” January 27, 2010 comment posted by Kiefaber:

Had you attended the numerous community forums and town meetings in the past few years, or contributed to the scores of ongoing round table discussions, you would know of my oft-stated position first-hand. Had you ever asked me for clarification of this issue I would have told you unequivocally that my ownership tenure and my family’s 70 year stewardship of The Senator is essentially a few years overdue for the critical conversion to non-profit ownership status, and that once it occurs I will happily exit the theatre operations scene, stage right…”

The problematic debt attached to the theatre and transition to non-profit mentioned was raised again just last year at a public meeting on the subject. However, now that the foreclosure auction has taken place our understanding is that debt should no longer be an issue. So, we wonder why the benefits of such a transition, coupled with a multipurpose arts, entertainment & education program model has not been championed by officials… The city’s “steering committee/Senator Theatre Strategy Group” claimed last year it would require subsidy. Yet, last we heard, the current private business proposal expected to be approved, will also require significant public funding (on top of the ridiculously low rental of $1 per year).

Again, looking backward to place blame is not going to solve The Senator situation. What we need are forward-thinking people, particularly historic theatre redevelopment experts, to illustrate, design and execute the plan we believe will unlock The Senator’s potential. One that could help revitalize North Baltimore with diverse programming that will draw equally diverse visitors.

If anything, a look back should be teaching us that the proposed plan of returning to an exclusive first-run film format is flawed.

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

SENATOR Theatre RFP: City Changes Mind – Kiefaber & Crew Can Stay Until July 21

As reported in the Baltimore Sun, City officials have backed off the recent, sudden announcement to force Tom Kiefaber and his volunteer staff out of The Senator this Sunday (July 27, 2010).

While most media outlets painted Kiefaber’s outrage at the abrupt directive to leave as some sort of grandstanding, he was not alone in his calls of outrage to the idea that he should be ousted from the theatre so that the new tenants, Buzz and Kathleen Cusack could move in, even before the citizens of Baltimore City would know anything about the terms of the lease!

Given that the City of Baltimore won the property at auction last summer, each and every citizen has a stake in the future of The Senator (truly now The People’s Theatre in more than just name) and has the right to express their opinions and concerns regarding its future, especially if even more taxpayer funds are being considered!

Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Starts Wed @ 12:01AM (doors open @ 11:30PM Tuesday) Click the image to get advance tickets now!

Now, with the extension given, Kiefaber and crew can honor their commitment to events that had already been scheduled to take place beyond this Sunday (after all, the City did ask him to keep The Senator alive while the RFP process completed), including the opening of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, perhaps the summer’s most anticipated blockbuster film, which begins at The Senator with a midnight show (12:01AM) this Wednesday! Doors will open at 11:30PM Tuesday night and advance tickets are on sale at missiontix.com!
“Regular” showings of Eclipse are now listed on The Senator’s web site – tickets will be $8 (cash only) at the door.

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 Theatre RFP: BDC Goes with “Last Man Standing” logic

Even though experts have stated that historic theatres, like Baltimore’s internationally recognized SENATOR Theatre, have the best chance of survival as non-profit, multi-purpose arts & entertainment venues, the Baltimore Business Journal & Baltimore Sun report that the BDC will recommend The Cusack plan to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

This is a plan that turns ownership over to privately-ownership continuing the same format the previous owner came under criticism by many for maintaining, that of a first-run movie house.

On top of that, according to the BBJ, the Cusacks plan to ask the city for a $100,000 grant and $600,000 loan – again, something critics claimed (many times incorrectly) that the former owner was guilty – asking for public funds to run a private business!

Cusack also asked for a $100,000 grant from the city and another $600,000 loan, funds he would use to renovate the structure.

So, does this make sense to anyone?
Public subsidy of a private business
(more than former owner Tom Kiefaber received?!)
to continue the same format as the previous owner?…

It’s said the mayor and the Board of Estimates will have to approve the recommendation before final negotiations can happen.

Now more than ever you should make your voice heard to the Mayor’s Office about this situation.

So, join those who have sent letters to the mayor about a proper evaluation of plans for the future of the theatre, like:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Theatre Historical Society of America

Baltimore Heritage, Inc.

Preservation Maryland

SENATOR Theatre RFP: So, what will it be, BDC?!

Last we heard the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) could be planning to make a recommendation on the future of The Senator Theatre as early as this Thursday, April 22, 2010 to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Given that WTMD suddenly withdrew their plan, the question hanging in the air is:

Will the BDC see sense and restart the process with hands-on guidance from historic theatre preservation and exhibition experts
or
will they try to sell the mayor on the remaining plan simply because, right now, that’s all they have left on the table?

Brief review of the situation: