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.