Today, two members of Friends of The Senator (FOTS) emailed letters to Baltimore’s new mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake warning her that FOTS sees the BDC’s RFP process for theatre as flawed in its current situation. Specifically, that FOTS considers the process invalid without the inclusion of experienced historic theatre redevelopment experts.
What follows are the texts of those messages to the Mayor in their entirety.
UPDATE: Share our sentiments?
Now you can use our form letter (and add your own thoughts) to let the mayor know how you feel!
UPDATE II: Tom Harris asked that a passage be clarified.
His previous terminology is redlined and revised appears in blue italics.
From Laura Perkins, FoTS delegate to the BDC’s Senator Theatre Advisory Panel:
To The Honorable Mayor Rawlings-Blake:
I recently served on the Baltimore Development Corporation’s [BDC] Senator Theatre RFP advisory panel, along with other community leaders, as the sole representative of the Friends of The Senator [FOTS] group. I approached my duties on the RFP panel with optimism, determined to represent the interests and concerns of the FOTS and help identify an optimal future for Baltimore’s beloved Senator Theatre.
The Senator is a revered Baltimore City landmark and a celebrated State of Maryland historic showplace. It is also a renowned historic monument on the National Register of Historic Places and a source of pride among Senator enthusiasts and preservation groups nationwide, as well as a source of concern regarding its uncertain future.
I have invested considerable time and resources to research the complex issues involved with The Senator’s status as an endangered national historic landmark, and its future redevelopment and preservation potential based on successful models across the nation. My research was very encouraging, and I looked forward with enthusiasm and good faith to help produce an informed representative assessment of the two RFPs.
Madam Mayor, I applaud your intention to bring a new level of transparency and integrity to Baltimore City government practices, including the BDC. You have more support than you may imagine in that regard. In that light, I feel it is my responsibility to inform you and the public that based on my in-depth discussions with film exhibition professionals and historic theatre redevelopment experts, the alarming manner in which the BDC is conducting the Senator Theatre RFP selection process is procedurally flawed, and it must be rectified.
The process lacks the expertise and crucial transparency required for a high-profile civic redevelopment project that to date has required the investment of over a million dollars in taxpayer funds. It must become more objective and transparent as soon as possible. The Senator RFPs need objective scrutiny by industry experts to advise the panel and the BDC board, if the results, which they expect you to bless in announcing the new ownership and future direction of the Senator Theatre, are to have any validity. At this point, the RFP process is a shambles.
A key issue is the BDC’s refusal to allow a qualified historic theatre redevelopment consultant and a film exhibition expert to actively assist the citizen panel and the BDC in the professional evaluation of the two RFPs under consideration.
The Senator’s transition to new ownership and operation has many aspects to consider, including mercurial film industry dynamics, historic theatre preservation concerns and tax credit issues, evolution in programming models, deriving maximum economic benefits for the community, and models for non-profit structure and fundraising for historic theatres. It is vitally important to bring on board objective industry experts with successful track records from consulting on and managing similar projects nationwide. The industry experts have the professional experience required in managing the transition of an historic motion picture theatre like The Senator from its outmoded, single-screen first-run business model to a restored, thriving entertainment venue that delivers the maximum economic and cultural benefits to the community in perpetuity.
The Senator’s former owner, Tom Kiefaber, previously brought industry expert John Lind of Venuetech, Inc. from California to Baltimore as a consultant to meet with the extended community, and his knowledge and insights regarding The Senator’s future non-profit incarnation were invaluable. Mr. Lind is an accomplished historic theatre redevelopment professional who has the high level of experience and an impressive portfolio of success that would greatly assist the BDC’s mandate to identify an optimal outcome for the Senator RFP process. The FOTS believe that John Lind is an ideal candidate, although he is certainly not the only option available.
The BDC must reach out to include objective industry experts like Mr. Lind. These experts have developed a set of established procedures over the years, through many successful historic theatre redevelopment projects nationwide, to ensure that the final RFP recommendation submitted to you has been determined in the most credible and informed manner possible. So far, the BDC representatives have simply insisted on keeping the Senator RFP process shrouded in secrecy. In light of your recent reassurances to the citizens of Baltimore that your administration will lift Baltimore’s City Hall above and beyond its widely sullied reputation, I hope you will agree that this odd and provocative stance by the BDC is simply unacceptable, and that it warrants your thoughtful intervention.
Until qualified historic theatre redevelopment professionals are allowed into the mix in earnest, I cannot in good conscience participate further in the BDC’s tainted Senator Theatre RFP evaluation process. After careful consideration of the circumstances, I have resigned from the Senator RFP panel in protest and informed the BDC of my position in writing on behalf of the Friends of the Senator group, who support my actions on their behalf.
Thank you for your kind attention to this matter. I trust that you and your staff will assess the seriousness of this situation and agree with the FOTS group and others regarding the wisdom of encouraging the BDC leadership to open up the process and fulfill their mandate and responsibility to engage expert industry professionals in the Senator RFP evaluation process. This potentially damaging controversy will otherwise continue to escalate and potentially undermine the professional credibility of all concerned.
Friends of The Senator
From Tom Harris:
To The Honorable Mayor Rawlings-Blake,
As a founder of the Friends of The Senator (FOTS) and its president, I’ve been informed by Laura Perkins, our representative to the BDC’s Senator RFP Advisory Panel that the future of The Senator Theatre remains in jeopardy due to the curiously stubborn and misguided actions of Baltimore Development Corporation officials. If I may briefly have your attention to consider the following:
The iconic Senator is an internationally recognized Baltimore landmark, and the last of its kind in the state. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in its illustrious 70 year history it has hosted scores of high-profile premieres, served as critical economic engine and cultural amenity in the heart of the Belvedere Square business and residential communities and produced hundreds of fundraising events that have supported a wide variety of not-for-profit, charitable organizations.
If the BDC is to make an honest and optimal recommendation to your office for a plan that envisions the best possible future for The Senator, the recommended plan must be scrutinized (and when awarded, carefully overseen) to ensure that its business and programming model will not only afford it sustainability, but ensure as well that the theatre’s many unique historic features and attributes are protected and preserved to guarantee that the irreplaceable essence of Baltimore’s classic 1939 art deco jewel will endure for another 70 years and beyond!
This is not to say that The Senator Theatre should be ‘set in amber’ as there are many needed updates to the facility to enhance its multipurpose functions. But, these evolutionary changes must be carefully thought out and complimentary to a full restoration effort before being implemented. What good is an internationally recognized historic landmark if we allow it to be altered in untoward ways that historic theatre redevelopment experts would consider foolish?
In the hearts and minds of 1,400 members of the international FOTS community intently following The Senator situation, we had high hopes that BDC officials would understand the legacy, the future possibilities and the significance the theatre holds in our rich history and in our North Baltimore businesses and residential communities. The repeated refusal of the BDC to allow actively engage professional historic theatre and film exhibition industry experts to participate in the process interactive panel discussions must be seen for what it is, an obvious and potentially fatal flaw. One we will all sorely regret if it is not corrected!
Just as any right-minded fine jeweler would not entrust the hiring of a diamond cutter to someone without expert understanding (if not first-hand experience) of diamond-cutting, Baltimore should not award private new ownership or operation of Baltimore’s historic landmark theatre without the invaluable guidance of those with significant experience and expertise in the realm of historic theatre redevelopment. These experts exist and examples of their successes are serving communities like ours nationwide. This is not an opportunity to be wasted, especially when Baltimore City has already invested a significant amount in this situation!
We were honored to be asked to have a representative serve on the RFP Advisory Panel, however, until the these glaring flaws in the process are rectified the Friends of The Senator organization can no longer, in good conscience, continue to contribute to the process or give credence to its validity or outcome.
We do not make these statements lightly, nor do we wish for the process to be rendered invalid, so we beg that you give this situation the attention it deserves.
The Senator is an experience. One you can especially see reflected in the faces of those visiting for the first time and those of children. As a volunteer weekend staffer (for nearly a year now) I’ve taken note of this. Let’s do this right. At the end, how great would it be to have demonstrated to the world that Baltimore City not only respects its history, but cares enough to bring the appropriate expertise aboard to ensure that this wonderful, unique treasure has been given an optimal chance of survival for the enjoyment of countless generations to come?!
Thank you for your valuable time and thoughtful consideration of this matter.
Friends of The Senator
Copies were also sent to news agencies including The Daily Record, Baltimore Sun, Baltimore Messenger, Investigative Voice, etc.