Mayor's Office Announces Baltimore's Senator Theatre Must Go Dark on Wednesday, July 21st Friends of The Senator group cries foul, demanding explanation
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, regarding 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.
Baltimore's quasi-public agency, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), has spent a year deciding the fate and future uses of The Senator Theatre. The BDC recently announced Baltimore businessman James "Buzz" Cusack as its selection to take over the theatre. Cusack is expected to operate the single-screen theatre with a for-profit, first-run film policy, after completing demolition and reconfiguration of the theatre's interior spaces.
The Cusack plan is estimated by the BDC to require $800,000 in public financing, $450,000 in historic tax credits, and a 15 year commercial lease, which the city would grant to Cusack at $1 a year, with option to renew, in addition to the $950,000 in public funds already spent in acquiring The Senator.
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development & Neighborhoods Kaliope Parthemos released a clarifying statement, in response to repeated inquires, and confirmed that The Senator Theatre will go dark on Wednesday, July 21st for an undetermined period. The Deputy Mayor did not offer reasons for this abrupt action.
"I am sure the theater will go dark until Mr. Cusack is ready to move forward and negotiations have been completed. Mr. Kiefaber [the Senator's former owner] is to cease all operations on the 21st under any circumstance," declared the Deputy Mayor in a July 15th email to Friends of The Senator (FOTS) leaders.
The Senator Theatre was acquired in July of 2009 by Baltimore City, through a polarizing auction process, triggered by the city during the administration of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, under recommendation by the BDC.
The FOTS question the reason for the theatre suddenly going dark, well before Mr. Cusack's specific plans for the National Register of Historic Places landmark have been finalized.
"The theatre is currently in day to day operation, and showing 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,' " said FOTS President Tom Harris. "We have no idea why the City would want the theatre to go dark for an indefinite period of time, while they work out the details of a taxpayer-funded plan, which the citizen owners have not had a chance to review, well before the plan can be approved by the Board of Estimates. The Mayor's office owes us all an answer to this question, and it has not been forthcoming. Why shut The Senator down on July 21st?"
Business leaders in the area have expressed concern over the economic impact of the theatre's closing on the surrounding Belvedere Square business district. "I cannot possibly convey my affection for the Senator Theatre and for Tom Kiefaber. The City should, in its own best interest, and that of the community, keep the Senator open for business," said Nelson Carey, owner of the popular nearby Grand Cru Wine Bar.
The Friends of The Senator group's active volunteers have been assisting former owner Tom Kiefaber to operate The Senator Theatre for the past 18 months, presenting a wide variety of gala premieres, first-run films, classics and indie films, live music concerts, and community-based events.
Mr. Kiefaber declined comment on the announcement, citing a "hush clause" legal agreement prohibiting him from making any public or private statement regarding Baltimore City Hall or the BDC.
The FOTS group claims the troubled BDC has a disreputable legacy of deceit, and has intentionally misled the public about issues related to Tom Kiefaber and The Senator Theatre. In response, the group is releasing information the BDC designated as "confidential," regarding the theatre, the city's acquisition, and the Cusack RFP proposal on its web site at www.thepeoplestheatre.us
SOURCE Friends of The Senator