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

Advertisements

SENATOR Theatre RFP: CHAP Hearing Summary Letter

Below are copies of the letter sent to Alex Castro (lead architect for Buzz and Kathleen Cusack’s Senator Theatre, LLC project) officially announcing the results of the August 10 CHAP hearing. Each of the attendees to the hearing was to receive this this document by mail.

Excerpts:

The Commissioners considered the application materials you submitted, the presentation you gave at the hearing, the staff presentation, the staff report and other testimony presented at the hearing…

The Commission then made motion and determined the following:

  • Moved to approve the staff recommendation for rehabilitation of the interior and exterior with careful attention to be given by experts in the field to the evaluation of systems and structure, with study of the storage space and the addition to the front, paying particular attention to the interior features specifically landmarked, as well as the (commemorative movie) sidewalks and the men’s lounge.
  • Approval of the new addition concept and interior concept alterations as submitted with the next phase concept designs to be submitted for full commission review…

Click on each to view full size:

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 Results

UPDATED (Aug. 13, 2010): Scans of CHAP Staff Report used at the meeting – see bottom of this post.

Yesterday’s CHAP hearing on The Senator Theatre was quite positive!

I want to thank everyone who attended!

It was encouraging to see so many show and endure the wait (the hearing was scheduled for 3pm, but I don’t think we actually got started until nearly 4?), especially the young man who addressed the committee stating (paraphrased):

“I think I may be the only one here not affiliated with some group.”
“I don’t know of anywhere else this [programming plan] has been successfully with an historic single screen theatre, so I hope the City will bring in experts from places where they successfully done something like this.”
“I want to bring my kids to see movies at The Senator, but I need it to be here for a while for that to happen.”

Our overriding concern for expert top-to-bottom evaluation of the building was taken into account and added to the conditions for moving forward with detailed renderings and further study of proposed changes. This was a huge relief! Our suggestion that Tom Kiefaber be included in such an inspection, because of his intimate knowledge of the building and systems was also taken.

Quick rundown of changes proposed by Alex Castro and Joe Adamczyk on behalf of Senator Theatre, LLC (James “Buzz” Cusack and Kathleen Cusack – renters/operators of The Charles Theatre & expected to be likewise at The Senator):

  • The crepe shop is now slated to occupy what is currently (largely) office & storage space. It is no longer destined for the ladies’ areas.
  • The mens’ lounge, while largely preserved would lose significant space as the north wall is proposed to be moved southward about 4ft to accommodate the revised crepe shop location.
    Part of the concern here is that the lounge is within CHAP’s protected areas & the lounge would appear as more of a hallway than a lounge. Either way, the star & moon in the mosaic floor is expected to survive.
  • No new passageways from the rotunda… Restoration was the word of the day for that area (And overall for that matter – for which I am thankful to hear!).
    Tom Kiefaber noted to the committee that an expert inspected the mural recently & suggested that the resulting suggestions for expert restoration be considered.
  • Two new storage closets to be placed against the auditorium’s back wall, right below the mezzanine level’s skyboxes.
  • The proposed Tapas restaurant facade is currently proposed to be 8ft closer to York Rd. “Further study” of this proposed extension was added as a condition to passage.
    It also raised concern about commemorative sidewalk blocks that would be affected. The committee agreed that relocation of the blocks (or alternate plan to save them) be a condition of approval.
  • A 2nd auditorium on the south side with stadium seating is now a ‘front-burner’ plan.

I hope to scan & post the handout we received at the end of the hearing that shows some additional views of the proposed additions/changes. In the meantime, the pre-meeting copy is here (PDF).

Thanks to CHAP chair Mr. Donald Kann and all of the commissioners who were present (I thought the two newest commissioners were especially on the ball, Ms. Anath Ranon and Mr. Tom Liebel).

My thanks to all of the CHAP staff, particularly Ms. Kathleen Kotarba and Mr. Eddie Leon for their cooperation and help in keeping me informed and answering my never-ending volleys of questions.

-Tom Harris

Related mass media reports:

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: 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 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.