Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Senator Theatre owner Kiefaber on Dan Rodricks' radio show Wednesday

Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber will be on Dan Rodricks' midday radio show on WYPR on Wednesday, April 1st at noon. Sean Brescia, who has been assisting with reorganization plans for The Senator, will also be on the show. Tune in to hear the current situation with The Senator.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Clue to the Identity of Mr. X?

If you’ve been following the actions of Baltimore City's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) “Special List” machination the city is using to slap unprecedented, restrictive controls on the interior of The Senator Theatre as it approaches an auction sale, it's becoming pretty obvious that it's an unethical move at best, apparenty intended to inhibit the bidding by anyone who's not a wired up and plugged in city insider. Outside bidders have good reason to be turned off by waiting up to six months for permits to be granted for any interior changes to The Senator beyond routine maintenance.

The buzz around town is that there’s reportedly a powerful prime mover on the CHAP commission who is driving this shady maneuver to manipulate the outcome of the auction. You also might know that The Charles Theatre owner James “Buzz” Cusack sits on the commission and has also stated his intention to bid on The Senator --- a clear conflict of interest. Mr. Cusack recused himself shortly after this blog and the Friends of The Senator Theatre blog highlighted the cozy connection.

So if we are to believe that it's not Cusack pulling the strings of a manipulated, behind-the-scenes ruse through the City Planning Department to drive down the cost of aquiring The Senator, then the question remains, who is the mysterious Mr. X pulling the levers?

The folks who believe that Buzz Cusack should buy The Senator need to know that Buzz Cusack told the Baltimore Business Journal last August that he wants out of the theatre business.

So if Cusack really wants out, why take the leap now to buy The Senator?

Standiford and Cusack took over the Charles in 1994, when it was a single-screen theater. The pair expanded the business in 1999 with $2 million in loans from the city, state and local philanthropic organization the Abell Foundation.

Hmmm…Abell Foundation. Where have we heard that before? Do they have a connection to the CHAP commission?

Oh yeah…Robert "Bob" Embry is the President of the Abell Foundation and also sits on the CHAP commission with Buzz Cusack.

In a 2003 City Paper article about Baltimore development, which interestingly brings up allegations (made by a more daring previous incarnation of the Baltimore Sun) of a “shadow government” operating in concert with developers in this city, Embry is quoted:

Embry himself has labored on many fronts, including education and housing, that are crucial to the city's success, but--as his picture window attests--the central chore of attracting job- and revenue-producing enterprise has never been far from his mind. "If you're running a city," Embry declares, "you want to persuade people to do business in the city."

Call me crazy, but doesn't that grandiose quote sound like Mr. Embry thinks he’s in charge in Baltimore?

Does anyone know if Embry has any close ties with connected real estate developers in Baltimore?

Is there any reason he would have an interest in who owns The Senator Theatre, a key piece of entertainment-oriented real estate sitting smack in the middle of a multi-million dollar redevelopment effort that received over 5 million in city and state grants? Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Is Embry Mr. X?

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Economics 101 and The Villagers Attack

Muvico has sold its Egyptian 24 multiplex cinema in Arundel Mills to Cinemark, along with 3 other theatres in its upscale, modern movie palace chain. The Arundel Mills theatre is one of the top-grossing theaters in the nation. The Muvico chain has built some of the most opulent modern multiplex movie houses in the country, and in better economic years, they have been highly successful. But Muvico sold the 4 theatres in a bid to stave off bankruptcy as a result of the economic downturn.

But Florida-based Muvico ran into trouble as the recession hit the credit markets. The company said it would use the proceeds of the sale to retire a $55 million debt to iStar Financial.

The Miami Herald and other Florida newspapers have reported that the company has been in default since October and is in danger of being taken over by iStar. The other three Muvico theatres included in the sale are in Florida.

The worst economic conditions since the great depression have caused numerous other corporations in all kinds of industries to go bankrupt. It seems like every day, we hear about a major bank in trouble, the entire Detroit auto industry ready to go down the tubes, or some other such impending economic disaster.

Outside the banking and auto industries, other corporations that have recently failed include Nortel Networks, CompUSA, The Sharper Image, Shoe Pavilion, Linens ‘n’ Things, Mervyns, Circuit City, Levitz Furniture, Lenox, Lillian Vernon, Mattress Discounters, Gottschalks, Trump Entertainment Resorts, and Waterford Wedgewood, to name just a few.

The historic Senator Theatre in Baltimore recently closed its doors and stopped showing first-run films for the first time in 70 years, but if you read the Baltimore Sun, you might gather that this particular business failure exists in a void that isolates it completely from disastrous economic conditions. Other businesses have failed because the housing bubble burst, the credit industry collapsed, and Wall Street’s ponzi scheme was finally revealed. Not The Senator. That one business failure is all Tom Kiefaber’s fault…at least if you read the Baltimore Sun.

This, in spite of the fact that the Maryland Daily Record has reported that Kiefaber stopped making payments on The Senator's mortgage in October, exactly the same month that Muvico, one of the biggest and most powerful movie chains in the country, started having problems. So, was there really nothing wrong with the economy in the past few months that might have affected The Senator? Was it really all Kiefaber's fault?

There is a bizarre local reaction of scorn and aggression toward Tom Kiefaber, now that his heroic efforts to preserve The Senator over more than 20 years (and plan for its future as a multi-purpose entertainment community asset) have finally left him bankrupt. It begins to resemble something out of the Salem witch trials or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s early American novel, “The Scarlet Letter.” By blaming Tom for something that is the result of economic conditions beyond his control, city officials and the Baltimore Sun have incited some kind of weird mob scene, with the villagers lighting torches and closing in on the imagined villain, who has actually done nothing wrong. In Kiefaber's case, he has in fact done a lot right for the community by sacrificing so much to keep The Senator available as a community resource.

If there was anything remotely funny about it, it would remind me of this:

Unfortunately, this isn’t Monty Python. It’s real life, and Tom Kiefaber’s family, while going through what must already be some of the hardest circumstances a family can face, is also being subjected to public scorn and ridicule directed at their most publicly visible family member. If this is the thanks that Baltimore gives to the family that has preserved The Senator for all of us, what kind of illogical, vindictive mob have we become?

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Senator Theatre Auction Set for 4/20 - Bank will reinstate if loan brought current

According to the Baltimore Sun today, the foreclosure auction on Baltimore's historic Senator Theatre has been set for April 20th.

C. Larry Hofmeister Jr., an attorney representing 1st Mariner, confirmed that the auction would be called off if the loan is made current.

Please donate to The Senator Community Trust, which is working to raise money to bring the loan current and eventually purchase The Senator.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Deconstructing Baltimore City’s “Offer” to Senator owner Tom Kiefaber

A few days ago, I asked Senator owner Tom Kiefaber if he would provide a copy of the “offer” letter (PDF) sent to him on January 26th by Andrew Frank, which our Deputy Mayor also simultaneously forwarded to The Messenger and the Sun directly from City Hall.

Astrogirl is not on City Hall's media recipient list, so I had to seek a copy of the letter from Tom, who first balked at the request. When I reasoned that City Hall had already released it to the media, he agreed to send me a copy.

After a few reminders, it showed up in my inbox, but without the comments that I expected would accompany it. That was a telling surprise. No comments from Tom Kiefaber about this strange and convoluted public "offer" from the Mayor's office? Is this the same Tom Kiefaber who in the past would always be ready to give the media and anyone else an insightful mega-dose of more than they really wanted to know?

In my opinion, Andrew Frank's letter is a revealing document that's purposely vague and legally unenforceable. It's a misleading ploy by our Deputy Mayor, acting on behalf of the city, to attempt to fool the public into thinking that City Hall will come to the rescue, while the clock runs down toward a foreclosure auction sale of The Senator. It's also clear as a bell to me and others that it was composed to trigger a diversionary media response, in order to undermine Tom Kiefaber's credibility and support. It was never intended to be a bona-fide offer.

The local media is also complicit by neglecting to sort out and investigate the specifics of this supposed "offer." Instead, they took the lazy rubber stamp slacker approach to the news and quickly turned the whole silly affair into some "will he or won't he accept the nebulous offer" nonsense. The media received the letter from City Hall at the same time as Kiefaber, and they immediately started hounding him like a pack of jackals, hungry for a conflict to exploit. Even Kiefaber's friends and supporters in the media inadvertently hung him out to dry, because they didn't do their homework and still don't understand the duplicitous motives of the key players.

Despite the contradictory, undefined nature of this written "offer," Kiefaber seemed to be compelled by the situation to quickly accept. He publicly called for the process to proceed, a process that virtually guarantees the loss of ownership of his beloved Senator Theatre, which he knows in and out better than anyone. It's surreal to see this play out in ways that don't add up.

Checking the press articles and TV reports turns up a number of conflicting versions of the deal and misinformed speculation that “Tom hasn’t accepted the offer,” putting the blame for the lack of a resolution on him. Keep in mind also that Tom’s family house hangs in the balance. It's pledged as collateral on The Senator’s commercial mortgage. He's probably still being forced to play along with the city’s ruse, in the increasingly far-fetched hope that if the offer was finalized, it would prevent the auction of his home. It’s reasonable to assume that he's being compelled to keep silent about what is actually happening behind the scenes, for fear of losing his home.

Let’s deconstruct the First Deputy Mayor's letter (PDF):

Dear Tom,

For reasons that you and others have articulated well, the Mayor agrees that we should make every effort to secure the future of The Senator Theater for generations to come. We commend you for your tireless efforts to preserve this Baltimore icon and applaud your willingness to support the creation of a non-profit corporation to own and manage The Senator Theater.

Translation: We’re going to butter you up so you’ll be more tender to carve when we bring out the knife. We’re also taking credit for your concerted efforts in past years to transition The Senator to non-profit ownership, but we applaud your willingness to go along with your, I mean “our” idea.

We understand that a small steering committee with expertise in non-profit management, film, theater management, and fundraising has agreed to study the feasibility of establishing such a non-profit, building on the considerable work that has already been completed. As an optimist, I am anticipating that the group will conclude that a non-profit is feasible under certain conditions, including a reduced debt burden.

Translation: We are taking all control of The Senator and its commercial development future out of your hands. We are relating that a secretive steering committee is competent to make this critical decision. (Bill Henry will later acknowledge it does not include anyone with any experience running a theater.) We’re hoping to obscure the fact that the steering committee is a shield and buffer, while we proceed to sort out an optimal method to help ensure the desired outcome of a foreclosure auction. This remains our favored way of reducing the theatre's debt burden, by shifting over most of it to be ultimately satisfied by the sale of your family home.

To that end, the City of Baltimore has been in discussions with First Mariner Bank to purchase the portion of The Senator Theater debt, $320,000, which is not secured by the City’s $600,000 loan guaranty. Under the conditions described below and subject to the approval of the Board of Estimates, the City would hold this portion of the debt as a non-amortizing soft second mortgage. The conditions are as follows:

Translation: We’re providing some broad-stroke numbers for the Sun and the copycat media to oversimplify, so they can lull the public into complacency. We’re building in a lot of excuses to wrangle ourselves out of this “deal,” as the theatre goes to auction.

· The steering committee concludes that The Senator Theater can be operated as self supporting non-profit corporation capable of raising sufficient revenue (through ticket sales and contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals) to cover debt and expenses.

Translation: We formed this steering committee to be able to say the recommendation is theirs, once we all determine just how this land grab and heart and soul-ectomy will come down.

· The Senator Theater would be deeded to the non-profit corporation before the City purchases the aforementioned portion of the debt.

Translation: In the event we find that allowing the creation of a non-profit is politically unavoidable due to public pressure, we’re going to make you sign over full control of the Senator Theatre building and your additional collateral real estate, before the ultimate ownership entity of your wonderful landmark theatre building is determined.

· First Mariner Bank agrees to release from its collateral the property at xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx [Tom’s home address removed for privacy reasons].

Translation: We’re trying to make you think you should play along, thinking that you might not lose your home. Remember, we said IF all these conditions are met. Fat chance of that happening, and now we are already backing off with Bill Henry out and around shilling for that probable outcome.

· 501 Orkney Road remains as collateral on the property.

Translation: Your house on Orkney Road is a residential property adjacent to commercially zoned parcels. We therefore want control over it and we want whatever equity may be there as well.

· The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development agrees to waive its claim to the theater and xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx [Tom’s home address].

Translation: We worked on this sentence and its double meaning. It sounds as if the State is on board with this offer, but we cannot make decisions for the State.

We understand not all of these conditions are in your control; however, the most critical condition is your willingness to transfer control of the property to the new non-profit entity. Please let me know if you are interested in pursuing this strategy.

Translation: You can’t do a thing about whether or not all of these many conditions are met, but we can make sure some of them are not met. All in all, we're going to put it to you, Mr. Kiefaber, take your wonderful theatre from you as cheaply as possible, and leave you personally with most of the debt. Also, the way we will discredit and defame you, you won’t be able to gather enough support to do anything about it after the fact.


Andrew B. Frank
First Deputy Mayor

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Buzz Cusack Recuses Himself - But Who Is Mr. X?

Last night, the Baltimore Sun's web site reported that Charles Theatre owner James "Buzz" Cusack will recuse himself from any CHAP (Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation) meetings about The Senator.

In another Senator development, a potential buyer who sits on a city board considering landmark status for the building's interior has said he will recuse himself from any discussion of the theater's fate.

James "Buzz" Cusack, who operates the five-screen Charles Theatre, said he will not participate in any debate over the landmark status proposal made by the city's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

Earlier this week, Kiefaber said the board's proposal to place the Senator's interior on a list of protected properties, which would restrict changes a new owner could make, threatened to decrease the building's value and scare off potential investors.

If I understand correctly, this changes very little of substance beyond possibly public perception.

Mr. Cusack may not be going to public meetings about The Senator, but who knows what is going on behind closed doors? If Mr. Cusack was involved in the initial discussions that started this CHAP attempt to slap these restrictive controls on the interior of the building, a move that looks very much like a city government attempt to fix the auction price and scare away potential bidders, the damage may be already done. And the Sun did not report that Mr. Cusack won't still bid on The Senator at auction, so I assume he is still possibly interested.

Still, let's assume for a moment that Mr. Cusack is not the prime mover behind the CHAP move. He may not be. My gut tells me that he's not the heavyweight player we're looking for in this questionable move by city government. So who is Mr. X? Who is behind this?

Let's assume for a moment that it's really one of the CHAP commissioners and that it isn't Mr. Cusack. Who do we have left? Does anyone know if any of these people might have a motive to fix the auction of The Senator?

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Senator Theatre Reorganization Announced -- Radio Show Today!

This morning, The Senator Theatre's listserv sent out a Senator Theatre Reorganization Plan outlining how the theatre's operations will reorganize for interim programming and eventually under new management. Some highlights of the plan:

1. Buy time to delay the foreclosure and auction process.
2. Reorganize interim operations.
3. Structure a viable acquisition model.
4. Transition The Senator to new ownership and operation.


We are aggressively evaluating our best options to buy the time required to reorganize interim operations and structure an acquisition that is in the best interests of the community, The Senator Theatre and its future. Short of an "angel" scenario materializing before the end of the month, it may be that a Chapter 11 filing is the best and possibly the only option for buying critical time.

Under this scenario, we would work with our creditors within the structure of the court to settle The Senator's debts, while allowing for interim operations to help pay bills, and the development of a viable opportunity for acquisition. We remain hopeful and open to any number of prospective acquisition models that may emerge through reorganization.

The costs of the reorganization process include legal and consulting fees and expenses, utilities and other essential operating expenses, interim payments to creditors, and underwriting for fundraising events. The willingness of individuals and community organizations to help fund these efforts is critical.


In the coming days and weeks we'll continue to provide updates on our evolving plans for implementation of sustainable interim programming models. The goal is to reorganize under new ownership with a viable business plan based on supplementing state-of-the-art film presentations with an expanded array of enhanced multi-purpose uses to attract new audiences in synergy with the Belvedere Square commercial district.

Why are expanded uses and new audiences so important? There is simply no long-term sustainability in an antiquated single-screen business model based solely on first-run films.

On an annual basis, first-run film grosses and the high percentage fees demanded by the studios fall short of meeting fixed monthly overhead costs, even with a significantly reduced debt load. The minimum two to four week uninterrupted runs required by the studios, combined with their substantial film rent commissions, create a significant deficit between fixed overhead and potential revenue, which simply cannot be overcome under the first-run, single-screen model.

Read the whole plan on The Senator's web site.

In a related event, Tom Kiefaber and Sean Brescia will be on the radio today on the Anthony McCarthy Show. From 5 to 6 PM, listeners can call in to ask questions about efforts to save The Senator. Call in with your questions! 410.319.8888

The show will be streamed live on http://www.weaa.org/.

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This really CHAPs my hide!

This latest development in the Senator saga really CHAPs my hide.

What’s up with the CHAP notices that have recently been posted on the front of The Senator Theatre?

For those who don’t speak acronym, CHAP is Baltimore City’s Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation. In 2007, they added The Senator to their “Special List,” which was created just for the theatre, and now they’re attempting to slap restrictive controls on any interior modification to this privately-owned property. It seems that this alarming attempt to seize municipal control over The Senator’s interior spaces is unprecedented. Libertarians, are you reading this?

That’s right. With this proposed legislation, Baltimore City is saying that whoever owns The Senator Theatre will have to make specific permit applications to CHAP for ANY modification of the interior of the theatre, and at the commission’s discretion, it can hold up a permit for up for six months while CHAP takes public input on proposed modifications to private property. Whoa. Are there any constitutional lawyers in the house?

And get this: The Senator is the only building in Baltimore on the “Special List.” Just The Senator. Now isn’t THAT special?

From a preservation standpoint, The Senator Theatre building is already protected. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989, and it was placed there after owner Tom Kiefaber successfully campaigned to get it listed.

As Lewis Carroll would say, the city’s actions regarding The Senator Theatre are getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

An inside source in city government tells me there are staff members in the planning department who are quite upset over the heavy-handed machinations of a particular powerful CHAP commissioner that the source would not name.

Seems like this reportedly scary honcho has everybody afraid to blow the whistle on what looks like a blatant attempt to fix the auction of The Senator.

I’m told that this mysterious CHAP commissioner is the sole prime mover driving this highly questionable effort forward, which will seriously undermine the bottom line value of The Senator, intentionally or not. Let’s face it: would you bid on a building if you knew you potentially faced six months of red tape for any modifications of its interior beyond routine maintenance?

A quick investigation of the CHAP website turned up an interesting fact: Mr. James “Buzz” Cusack sits on the commission. Excuse me if this seems like the kind of thing that gets taken off of government web sites after bloggers notice them. I took a screen shot.

The Baltimore Sun has reported that Mr. Cusack, who runs the Charles Theater, a rival to Tom Kiefaber over the years, has announced his intention to be one of the bidders on The Senator if it goes to auction. So, is Buzz Cusack the mysterious commissioner who is conducting this railroad train? If not, then who is? Anyone out there know who sponsored this action by CHAP? Pray tell.

Another article in the Baltimore Sun reveals that Kiefaber is not happy about CHAP’s attempt to place restrictive controls over the renowned theatre that he and his family have lovingly preserved since 1939.

Kiefaber said a plan to preserve the building's interior, however well-intentioned, contributed to his decision to stop showing first-run films. The proposal, by the city's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, would severely restrict any structural changes that could be made to the Senator's interior. In the long term, Kiefaber said today, that would affect the building's value by limiting a prospective buyer's options. In the short term, he said, the move scared off an investor whose capital could have helped Kiefaber meet payroll for his 23-person staff.

So just the specter of this controversial CHAP action scared off an investor? Well surprise, surprise. So that’s why The Senator closed down so suddenly for the first time in seven decades with no warning.

And why does the City now seem to be backing off their well-publicized “offer” to Kiefaber that would have him sign over The Senator to a non-profit and allow him to keep his home?

Is it just a coincidence that Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank’s prediction in the Sun of when the mid-April auction will take place also coincides with the date set for the upcoming CHAP hearing? Maybe it’s just my paranoia about the way our fair city operates behind the scenes, but this whole affair is starting to reek of something foul.

When I asked Kiefaber about all this, he (uncharacteristically) said very little and looked a bit rattled by the inquiry. Is it just me or do Tom’s public statements lately about these matters seem like a captive’s communications from a kidnapper’s lair?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Message From The Senator Community Trust

This message was sent out last night on The Senator's listserv:

Dear Friends of The Senator Theatre:

The Senator Community Trust has asked us to forward this message on to you:

As we are sure you have heard by now, The Historic Senator Theatre is going to auction unless we, the greater Baltimore community, take immediate action to ensure the community has a stake in its future. The goal is attainable.

Please join our MISSION DEBT FREE now! The effort to convert The Senator Theatre to a debt-free multipurpose arts and entertainment facility is within reach.

If each person receiving this email donates just $175, we can pay off The Senator's mortgage and begin operations as a debt-free multipurpose arts and entertainment facility immediately.

If each person receiving this email forwards it on to just one more friend, and that whole group donates just $87.50, we can pay off The Senator's mortgage and begin operations as a debt-free multipurpose arts and entertainment facility immediately.

If each person receiving this email forwards it on to just two more friends, and that whole group donates just $58.33, we can pay off The Senator's mortgage and begin operations as a debt-free multipurpose arts and entertainment facility immediately.

We realize that not everyone might be able to make donations of this size, but please do whatever you can to help, and together we can reach this goal before auction.

The Senator Community Trust would also like to thank everyone who attended the town hall meeting on Monday night. We are pleased to report that consensus was strong among the hundreds in attendance, and our community is indeed committed to ensuring that The Senator Theatre is not abandoned to auction. There was overwhelming support for the vision to transition the theatre into a multipurpose arts and entertainment facility as a way to expand its offerings, attract new audiences and establish a sustainable business model for the future.

In response to your desire for an action plan and method for making donations, we have established a new website at www.thesenatorcommunitytrust.org.

Ways to help:
1. Contact your city and state representatives and ask them to do everything in their power to support our efforts to prevent an auction.

2. Donate - Over the next several weeks, The Senator will be reorganizing to reopen under streamlined operations with an array of programming and fundraisers other than first-run films. Our goal is to keep the lights on and keep hope alive as we attempt to buy time and build support for our cause. We'll continue to publicize these programs as they are scheduled.

Your donation will help support vital aspects of the effort to buy time and reorganize, including: legal and consulting fees and expenses, utilities and other essential operating expenses, underwriting for upcoming fundraisers, and OF COURSE, the general fund to buy and secure The Senator Theatre.

3. Write to our celebrity friends of The Senator, including John Waters, Barry Levinson, Edward Norton, Matthew McConaughey, David Arquette, Oprah and Patricia Hearst. Send us your letters via email and we'll pass them along on your behalf.

Please visit www.thesenatorcommunitytrust.org now.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baltimore City Looking for a Way Out of Deal with Tom Kiefaber?

ABC News reports on Baltimore Budget Woes:

City councilman Bill Henry told a meeting of community residents the deficit could be as high as $66 million dollars.

Henry didn't say when or where the cuts might be made, but warned residents the red ink could cripple any effort to secure new funding for the cash strapped Senator Theatre.

My comments:

Interesting response to the political will shown to save The Senator by the hundreds of people that showed up at the town hall meeting on Monday night and gave Tom Kiefaber a standing ovation. Is our city government actually TRYING to be unpopular?

It's time for me to share the remarks I had written prior to Monday's town hall. I wanted to make these points at the meeting, but there simply wasn't time.

My prepared remarks:

When I first moved to Baltimore, I chose this neighborhood in part because I instantly fell in love with The Senator. When a town hall here in January made it clear The Senator would be closing imminently, I wanted to help. Since then, I’ve been devoting a lot of time to research the situation here. I’ve found there’s a story that’s not being told in the media. As a writer, I want to tell that story.

Most people in Baltimore seem to think our city government has put a lot of money into this beautiful place, The Senator Theatre. The truth is, the city hasn’t put a dime into this place to keep it going in the past decade.

In the press, city officials like to talk about a $600,000 loan guarantee they put on The Senator’s mortgage with 1st Mariner Bank. They talk about this as if it were money they put into The Senator, but it’s not. The city will only have to actually pay out that money if Tom Kiefaber can’t pay back the loan after a likely bankruptcy court proceeding can’t squeeze any more blood from his family.

The city also likes to talk about the $320,000 they MIGHT put into paying off part of Kiefaber’s loan so that he could keep his house, IF the city determines that its conditions have been met. City officials usually sound as if they’ve already spent this money too.

The truth is, the city hasn’t put a dime into helping The Senator keep the doors open in the past ten years. Let that one sink in.

All these city officials misleading the public about all the money they’ve supposedly spent on this cherished landmark remind me of a guy who put ten cents in the red bucket at Christmas time, then wore a t-shirt that said “I support the Salvation Army” for the rest of the year.

The Book of Matthew in the Bible says “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” In Baltimore City’s case, the left hand knows what the right hand might do long before the right hand actually does it, and the left hand is happy to proclaim the right hand’s good deeds as if they had already happened, too.

On the right side of the street, however, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand already did. The City and State poured millions in grants into private enterprise at Belvedere Square, and they don’t want you to know about that. One of the reasons they don’t want you to know is because it smacks of favoritism. Why hasn’t the City similarly helped the beloved landmark Senator Theatre?

I also found out in my research that this neighborhood fought a big battle with the City ten years ago over Belvedere Square’s redevelopment. The City wanted to tear down a bunch of houses and put in Big Box Chain Stores. The neighborhood fought them and Tom Kiefaber sided with the neighborhood.

Right now, it looks like the City is going to let The Senator go to foreclosure auction so they can clear the debt from the property, saddle Tom’s family with the debt, and probably let one of their favorite developers scoop up the property debt free. If The Senator falls into the wrong developer’s hands, I think it’s likely to become the anchor business (or possibly the anchor non-profit) in Big Box Belvedere Mall Part II, The Sequel.

The Senator and this neighborhood deserve so much better than this. This beautiful place should be the area’s premiere multi-purpose entertainment venue, with a variety of events to showcase the many talented artists in the area, educate children, present high quality films, and continue to serve the community as a good neighbor like The Senator has always been. Make no mistake. Tom Kiefaber is ready to hand it over to a new operator, but he’d like to make sure it’s going to continue to serve the best interests of the community in the future.

I wonder if people in this community know what a good neighbor The Senator has been over the years. Do people realize The Senator has raised millions of dollars for local charities? Do they realize The Senator makes an average of about 500 in-kind donations to local charities every year? Do they realize one of The Senator’s employees picks up the trash for a few blocks on York Road every single day?

If the City wanted to keep The Senator out of foreclosure, they could put up 10% of the money that was put into private enterprise at Belvedere Square and save The Senator right now. But they won’t do that. Instead, they are going to gamble with the future of The Senator and this neighborhood and let Tom’s family be ruined financially.

So let’s talk about Tom Kiefaber and his role in all this. This is all his fault because he’s a bad businessman, right? Wrong.

Until last night, The Senator was one of the only single-screen theatres in this country that was still operating as a for-profit business. The challenges of running a single-screen theatre as a first-run movie house are legion. Most similar theatres have closed or else they’re non-profits that receive a lot of help from government, corporate sponsors, and private donations. Tom Kiefaber has been doing something that’s nearly impossible every single day for the past 20 years.

Should Kiefaber have gotten out of the business before he got into all this debt? If he was only thinking about money, yes. But the truth is, he was thinking about something bigger than himself and his own bottom line. He was thinking about the quality of life in this community and preserving this wonderful place for future generations. Tom has made incredible sacrifices because he loves this community and this theatre. The man is a hero.

So what does Baltimore do for its hero who has saved The Senator Theatre for all of us? He gets beaten up daily in the press, reviled for his debts, and if he’s lucky, his family might not lose their home.

Well, I’m here to say Tom Kiefaber and his family deserve better than this. I also think our neighborhood deserves better than this, but the proof of that may be in whether we’re decent enough to stand up for someone who stood up for us in the past. This should be about solidarity with a valued member of our community.

As I was writing this, I thought about the movie Spartacus. There’s a certain point in that movie when a community won’t let a good man take any more abuse, and they step up to share his burden. When the Romans are looking for Spartacus to punish him, each man stands up in turn and says “I am Spartacus.” I hope that our community is good enough that, rather than let a good man be punished for his community-oriented values, we all stand up with him and say “I am Kiefaber.”

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thank You Tom!

Gayle at The Senator put this message up on the marquee today and snapped this photo:

I'd like to add my voice to this. As I said in the town hall meeting last night for anyone who stayed long enough to hear it, Tom Kiefaber is a true hero. Judging by the shouts and cheers of approval I got when I said this, I don't think I'm alone in this view. Without his amazing efforts to do what is nearly impossible day after day, year after year, The Senator would long ago have been just a memory. The fact that we're even able to have a discussion about The Senator's future today is reason to thank him and his incredible staff.

It's not clear who is going to fill the void, now that Tom has expressed a desire to move on and hand The Senator over to another operator. We can only hope his expertise will be consulted going forward, because it was clear last night that without his leadership, there's a difficult and uncertain road ahead.

I hope that Baltimore City realizes before it's too late that we need Tom's expertise in this transition. The meeting last night, which had a much larger turnout than expected with a house that looked pretty full, demonstrated that there is strong public demand to stop the foreclosure auction and give the community more time to find a solution. The public also showed their respect for Tom's work with a lengthy standing ovation at the very beginning of the meeting when he welcomed the community, before turning it over to the Senator Community Trust, which had called the meeting.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Senator Theatre Forced To Close

Unfortunately, this is not Photoshop, folks. This is the marquee of The Senator Theatre as it was being changed last night.

Now, as discouraging as this is, it's not the end. We can demand a better future for The Senator, but there's an important meeting tonight at 7 PM at The Senator that everyone concerned should go to. Here's a press release from The Senator today:


Senator Theatre Forced to Close, Rotunda to Follow
Public to Converge for Town Hall Meeting

Baltimore, MD, March 15, 2009 – Senator Theatre management has announced that the screening of “Watchmen” on Sunday evening, March 15th, was the final first-run film to be shown at the renowned theatre in its 70 year history. The Senator’s first film attraction on October 5, 1939 was “Stanley and Livingstone”.

The exact date for ceasing first-run film exhibition at the Rotunda Cinematheque is not yet determined, but that announcement is likely within the week.

“This was a very difficult decision made after a great deal of soul-searching and deliberation with our key management staff, and my family. The economic realities are such that the show simply cannot go on at The Senator,” said owner Tom Kiefaber. “The rising expressions of support from the extended community and beyond for The Senator and its future are encouraging, however, the revenue from first-run films in this economy has regrettably made it impossible for me to meet payroll for our loyal staff beyond this point.”

A town hall meeting will be held at The Senator on Monday, March 16th at 7:00 PM. Doors open at 6:15PM.

The newly-formed Senator Community Trust has called the Town Meeting and invited Mayor Dixon and other city and state officials, members of Baltimore City’s Senator Steering Committee and all other interested parties. The purpose of the Town Meeting is to seek public input and clarify the situation regarding The Senator’s precarious and uncertain future. All concerned are encouraged to attend this pivotal public forum.

Theatre management plans to screen a variety of classic and cult films and concert videos to commemorate the end of an era at The Senator.

A schedule of special events will be announced on www.senator.com.

Contact: Tom Kiefaber

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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Senator Theatre’s Brand of Excellence

While it seems that half of Baltimore is busy kicking Tom Kiefaber while he’s down, perhaps we should really be thanking him for the fact that The Senator Theatre is still here, ready to have the torch passed to another operator, whatever its uncertain future might be.

Some famous words of President Theodore Roosevelt should be considered here:

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Citizenship in a Republic,"Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23,

What follows is a very incomplete partial list of accomplishments at The Senator Theatre and achievements by owner Tom Kiefaber. It should be noted that everything listed since 1989 has happened under Tom Kiefaber’s leadership. This picture of the situation shows a part of the other side of the story of Kiefaber’s work with The Senator --- work which has left him in debt, but has left The Senator an impressive legacy.

I have put this list together from my research over the past several weeks. I am aware of several holes in my research to date. This list does not include a full accounting of the millions of dollars raised for charity at benefit premieres and in-kind donations, the premieres and celebrity appearances at The Senator, the list of national media recognition, or the full list of awards that The Senator and Tom Kiefaber have won over the years. I have yet to gather all the information I need for those pieces. It’s possible I will find the time to publish a more complete version of this at some later date. Researching this is a massive undertaking, because there's so much to this story.

The Senator Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This listing was achieved in 1989 after Tom Kiefaber lobbied for it.

Partial Timeline:

1939, October 5 – The Senator Theatre first opens as part of the Durkee Enterprises chain founded by Tom Kiefaber’s grandfather. Kiefaber grew up in the theatre.

1941 – The management of The Senator interrupted the movie to announce the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Senator was chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of the theatres to make the announcement. The Senator subsequently sold record numbers of war bonds in the lobby.

1989 – Tom Kiefaber raised the money to buy the Senator from Durkee Enterprises, after working to ensure that it would not be “twinned” by having a wall put down the middle of the auditorium.

1989, October 5 – The Senator’s 50th anniversary celebration included a black tie gala with a 50 year commemorative print of The Wizard of Oz. It was attended by Mr. and Mrs. Meinhardt Raabe, who both appeared as Munchkins in the movie. Mr. Raabe was the Munchkin coroner.

1990 – Benefit premiere of John Waters’ Cry-Baby brought stars including Johnny Depp to Baltimore and raised $50,000 for AIDS Action Baltimore.

MIX: The Recording Industry Magazine, writer Stephen St. Croix noted of the Senator: “Some insane person decided to revamp it and install an impressive, subwoofed Dolby 6-channel system, and he or she did it right. This is the only known example in Baltimore.”

1991 – USA Today national reader’s poll listed The Senator as one of the four best movie theaters in the country.

1998 – Tom Kiefaber receives Governor’s Citation “in appreciation of your outstanding services to the citizens of this State” from Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening.

1999 – In preparation for the premiere of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the Senator made a major upgrade to sound system, seating, carpet, paint, and the concession stand. A new Dolby Digital sound system with an additional surround channel was installed to accommodate the full sound capabilities of the movie. New cinemascope lenses were installed.

Little Italy Open Air Film Festival makes its debut with the help of Tom Kiefaber and the Senator Theatre. The Senator helped with equipment, projection, popcorn and volunteers. (The equipment was rented by the festival organizers.) The festival is a rare example of open-air cinema in the United States.

2001 – The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed America’s Historic Theatres on their annual list of America’s most endangered historic places. They used an image of The Senator as the “poster child” for this listing.

November 2001, Cinema Treasures lists The Senator among its top 10 classic movie houses.

2002 – UTNE READER, February 2002, The Senator is listed among “America’s 60 Best Public Places.”

2003 – Tom Kiefaber receives Business Leadership Award from the National Main Street Awards Program, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

2004 – NEWSWEEK, November 22, 2004, listed The Senator as number 2 out of a list of 6 top picks for classic movie theaters by Ross Melnick and Andreas Fuchs, authors of “Cinema Treasures.”

2005 – Entertainment Weekly, Aug. 12, 2005 cited the Senator as number 4 out of 10 best movie theaters in America.

2008 – MOVING PICTURES magazine, Winter 2008/2009 lists the Senator as number 7 on a list of the 10 Best Movie Theatres in America.

2009 – Style magazine, March-April issue lists The Senator among Charm City’s charming attractions for which “the price is right.”

Other Achievements:

Over the years, the Senator has always focused on state of the art technical presentation. They are perfectionists about it.

TAP (Theatre Alignment Program), a rigorous inspection program started by Lucasfilm and designed to ensure cinematic excellence at presentation theaters, rated the Senator “among the country’s best for technical excellence,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Senator has been sought after by perfectionists in the movie industry as one of the best presentation quality movie houses in the country to showcase their films. Event pictures of the caliber of the Star Wars franchise, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter often attract fans who come from miles away to see their favorite films at the Senator, sometimes camping out on the sidewalk before the opening. The Senator has supported these fans in specific past incidents by putting heaters out on the sidewalk or inviting fans to sleep in the theatre.

Bill Hewitt, the Senator’s projectionist, inspects every frame of every film they show by hand before they show it. This is old school quality control no longer practiced by most theaters.

Tom Kiefaber has regularly won accolades for his business leadership as the owner of The Senator. He has been honored by Governors of Maryland, Mayors of Baltimore, charitable foundations and preservation organizations, the Baltimore City and County Chambers of Commerce, Baltimore Heritage, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He served two terms on the board of The League of Historic American Theatres, and is a founder of The Producer’s Club of Maryland, and The Baltimore City Historical Society. He is also on the board of many other organizations, including Women in Film and Video of Maryland, The Friends of the Govans Library, The Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, The Royal Theatre and Community Heritage Foundation, The National Association of Theatre Owners, and The Maryland Film Festival, as well as the Community Resource Council of The Junior League of Baltimore.

A Senator employee cleans up the trash on York Road in the surrounding blocks every day.

The Senator makes on average about 500 charitable donations each year to area non-profits, benefiting almost 400 individual charities in 2008 alone, sometimes with repeated in-kind donations of movie passes and/or posters.

The Senator has raised millions of dollars for area non-profits through charity premieres and in-kind donations.

The Senator is known by patrons for its personal attention, which often includes an introduction to the movie by theatre owner Tom Kiefaber.

The Senator regularly works with area businesses and non-profits to support special events in the community. Just one example is the Baltimore Jewish Film Festival, which The Senator has been supporting for about 15 years.

There is real butter on the popcorn.

The Senator has appeared as a location in Barry Levinson’s Avalon, John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented, and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Tom Kiefaber makes a cameo appearance in 12 Monkeys. See if you can spot him!

Film premieres at the Senator:

CRY-BABY (John Waters, director) – World Premiere
HAIRSPRAY (John Waters, director) – World Premiere
SERIAL MOM (John Waters, director) – World Premiere
PECKER (John Waters, director) – World Premiere
CECIL B. DEMENTED (John Waters, director) – World Premiere
DINER (Barry Levinson, director) – World Premiere
TIN MEN (Barry Levinson, director) – World Premiere
AVALON (Barry Levinson, director) – World Premiere
LIBERTY HEIGHTS (Barry Levinson, director) – World Premiere
PRIMAL FEAR (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
ROUNDERS (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
KEEPING THE FAITH (Edward Norton, actor/director) – Benefit Premiere
THE SCORE (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
RED DRAGON (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
FRIDA (Edward Norton, actor) – Benefit Premiere
Maryland and world premieres of scores of other feature films, according to a Senator PR document.

Famous guests of honor at The Senator over the years:

Muhammad Ali
Allen Daviau (cinematographer)
Robert Altman (director)
Frank Capra (director)
Nora Ephron (director)
Terry Gilliam (director)
Agnieszka Holland (director)
Norman Jewison (director)
Barry Levinson (director)
David Mamet (director)
Sydney Pollack (director)
John Waters (director)
Robert Wise (director)
Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (production/direction team)
Bess Armstrong (actor)
David Arquette (actor)
Edward Asner (actor)
Kevin Bacon (actor)
Daniel Baldwin (actor)
Drew Barrymore (actor)
Ned Beatty (actor)
Richard Belzer (actor)
Timothy Bottoms (actor)
Nell Carter (actor)
Cyd Charisse (actor)
Kelly Curtis (actor)
Johnny Depp (actor)
Danny DeVito (actor)
Stephen Dorff (actor)
Charles S. Dutton (actor)
Jenna Elfman (actor)
Jodie Foster (actor)
Edward Furlong (actor)
John Glover (actor)
Karolyn “Zuzu” Grimes (actor)
Salma Hayek (actor)
Patty Hearst (actor)
Celeste Holm (actor)
Robert Hooks (actor)
Yaphet Kotto (actor)
Ricki Lake (actor)
Janet Leigh (actor)
Joe Mantegna (actor)
Shirley MacLaine (actor)
Matthew McConaughey (actor)
Butterfly McQueen (actor)
Edward Norton (actor)
Mary Kay Place (actor)
Martha Plimpton (actor)
Paulina Porizkova (actor)
Jane Powell (actor)
Keanu Reeves (actor)
Christina Ricci (actor)
Julia Roberts (actor)
Ginger Rogers (actor)
Mickey Rooney (actor)
Meg Ryan (actor)
Winona Ryder (actor)
Armin Mueller-Stahl (actor)
Madeleine Stowe (actor)
Lili Taylor (actor)
Kathleen Turner (actor)
Sam Waterston (actor)
Bruce Willis (actor)

Famous Musical Acts that have performed at the Senator:

Richard Thompson
Roger McGuinn
Laurie Anderson
Shawn Colvin
Henry Rollins
The Roches
Randy Newman
Michael Hedges
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Bruce Cockburn

Partial list of sources of national media recognition for the Senator:

USA Today
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
Entertainment Weekly
Fortune Magazine
US News & World Report
CBS News
ABC News
The History Channel
E! Entertainment
Zippy the Pinhead cartoon

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baltimore's Senator Theatre to Close

This press release just showed up on PR Newswire. Sad day. Please note the time change for the upcoming town hall at The Senator, which will now be held on Monday, March 16th at 7:00 PM.

Baltimore's Senator Theatre to Close


BALTIMORE, March 11 /PRNewswire/ -- The historic Senator Theatre has been pursuing a transition to community-based ownership, but debt and operational deficits are threatening to derail the plan. The theatre's mortgage is in default and analysis of current cash flow indicates that closure and an auction sale are imminent.

"We just received notice that accelerated foreclosure is proceeding, said Senator owner Tom Kiefaber. "It's alarming to be in such a precarious position at this critical point when so many people who appreciate The Senator want it to remain in operation through this transition to a community-owned resource."

Results from recent round table discussions, online forums and town meetings demonstrated strong support among Baltimore's business and residential communities for the theatre to remain open as ownership transitions from Kiefaber to a new non-profit, community owned entity. Historic theatres nationwide have undergone non-profit conversion to expand educational and entertainment programming and ensure their preservation.

In response to Kiefaber's advocacy of community ownership of The Senator, leaders from across Baltimore recently formed The Senator Community Trust. The non-profit entity plans to commence raising funds to purchase the theatre in its mission "to preserve, protect and restore Baltimore's cherished landmark, the historic Senator Theatre."

A town hall meeting will be held at The Senator on Monday, March 16th at 7pm.

Kiefaber has agreed to a request from The Senator Community Trust to make the theatre available for the town meeting as an open forum to provide the public with the facts and discuss how this situation is likely to affect The Senator and the extended community. The Trust has invited city and state officials and members of the city's ad hoc Senator Steering Committee. All concerned are welcome and encouraged to attend.

A recent public offer by Mayor Dixon's office to Kiefaber is intended to reduce the theatre's debt and facilitate The Senator's conversion to non-profit ownership as a proviso of the deal. "I have notified the city of my acceptance of their offer, but the details are yet to be resolved. It's an involved process that's being pressured by the foreclosure timeline," Kiefaber said.

Sean Brescia of Clearpath Management, who has been working to demonstrate the viability of multi-purpose uses for the theatre and helping coordinate efforts among the various parties, said, "These scenarios take time to develop properly and no one, including the city, is going to have the chance to identify the most viable opportunities ahead if the outcome is forced by foreclosure."

There has been much public speculation regarding the city's offer to Kiefaber, which is conditioned on the city's determination that a non-profit Senator Theatre is sustainable. In an apparent contradiction of the stated terms of the offer, that pivotal decision may have been made already.

According to a member of the city's Senator Theatre steering committee, "We have looked at many examples for a nonprofit and not one of them exists without considerable subsidy. That is not possible in today's environment." In reference to the newly formed Senator Community Trust, the representative added, "If the Trust wishes an active role, they should begin raising the several hundred thousand [dollars] required to bid at auction. There are likely to be excellent and well-financed bidders there and it's my guess that is likely to be where we are in a few short weeks."

"I don't presume to speak to the city's intentions," Brescia added, "They need to speak for themselves. There seems to be a lot of confusion about their perspective and the participation of city officials at Monday's town meeting would greatly benefit public understanding of the situation. In any case, the theatre is headed rapidly to auction. It's now up to people to make their voices heard and ask the city to follow through on their offer if the community wants to have any say in the Senator's uncertain future."

Clearpath Management Senator Management
866.944.4409 x1 410.435.3583
info@clearpathmanagement.com info@senator.com

SOURCE Clearpath Management

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Monday, March 09, 2009

WJZ: Baltimore 3rd Graders Head to the Movies for Education

WJZ Baltimore has a report about 3rd graders heading to The Senator Theatre for edu-tainment. Be sure and check out the video!


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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Interesting Exchange Between Bill Henry and Tom Kiefaber

Last night, I attended a meeting of the York Road Partnership, a local community group, because I understood The Senator Theatre was going to be on the agenda.

As the meeting was wrapping up and The Senator had not yet been discussed, Tom Kiefaber raised his hand during the announcements part of the meeting. He announced that there was an enhanced learning event going on at The Senator this morning at 10:15-11:30.

Tom then asked what happens if the city’s steering committee decides The Senator cannot go forward as a non-profit.

Bill said the Mayor would have to determine if it can go forward as a non-profit at that point. He added that he hasn’t been part of any discussion over what happens if it can’t go forward as a non-profit.

That was the extent of the discussion in front of the entire meeting.

The conversation about The Senator later continued outside. It was witnessed by myself, another concerned neighbor, and Adam Bednar of The Messenger (it will be interesting to see what he might write about it).

The conversation was mostly between Tom Kiefaber and Bill Henry. Tom was very clear that he has accepted the city’s offer and is willing to work to iron out the details. He was pressing Bill to explain how the city is going to hand The Senator over to a non-profit and how they are going to determine what non-profit.

Bill stated the steering committee is really just crunching numbers to see if it CAN become a non-profit, and looking at the numbers for various plans that have been submitted to them by interested parties. They are NOT determining how The Senator will be run in the future.

I observed that if the city is going to pay off part of Kiefaber’s loan and then take over The Senator, but the city has not yet determined at that point what to do with it, obviously The Senator is going to close for a while. Bill did not deny that. In fact, he has admitted it publicly and on the record before this.

I also learned other interesting things from what Bill was saying:

The city is most likely going to allow The Senator to go to a foreclosure auction to “clear the debt.” (As Tom Kiefaber pointed out, this does not clear the debt from his perspective, because he will still owe it.) The Senator will therefore be sold to the highest bidder unless this foreclosure is stopped.

The Senator might not be a movie theatre in the future. Various proposals have been presented. It sounds like there is no guarantee it will be any kind of public theatre at all.

Bill reiterated that the steering committee is not going to take public input.

The city is in a position to potentially determine the fate of The Senator only because they guaranteed a loan to The Senator with public funds. To refuse to take public input on something that involves the use of taxpayer money is inexcusable, in my opinion.

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New Senator Community Trust Seeking Broad Community Involvement

What follows is an email message and press release I just received from Laura Thul Penza, on the Board of the Senator Community Trust and President of the Govanstowne Business Association:

Dear Neighbors, Businesses and Friends,

Please forward - help communicate with all who are interested in the fate of The Senator Theatre by forwarding this to your organization members, posting on your listserves or websites, sharing information at meetings, etc.

We have been informed by The City’s Steering Committee that The Senator Theatre is in imminent danger of going to auction and an uncertain future - within the next few weeks!

It is extremely important that everyone understands the gravity of the situation at The Senator, the last remaining single-screen in Baltimore! Although the City’s interest is not quite aligned with the community efforts, The SCT is working towards bridging the gap and hoping to convince the Steering Committee that keeping the doors open will be in the best interest of all.

The Senator Community Trust, LLC (SCT) has organized and is in the process of applying for non-profit status to begin long-term sustainable funding efforts, however a foreclosure action that might occur that quickly does not allow enough time for effective positive action.

Unless we organize immediately to raise the funds to intercede and stop the foreclosure, we will lose our ability to have any influence on the future of The Senator and its place in our community. Look for more details on this emergency fundraising campaign in a release to come out in the next couple days.

In the meantime, consider seeing a movie this weekend at The Senator or Rotunda – bring family, friends and co-workers. Your patronage does help keep the doors open!

For additional information, please take a look:

The Daily Record (Friday, February 27) Liz Farmer has written an informative article about the Senator Theatre situation: http://www.mddailyrecord.com/article.cfm?id=10848&type=UTTM

Also, various Friends of The Senator groups have formed, which publish updated information. These groups are working in coordination with one another and with The Senator Community Trust Board, and are described below.

Friends of The Senator Facebook Grouphttp://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=39720373765; e-mail: friendsofthesenator@live.com

Friends of The Senator Website http://friendsofthesenatortheatre.wordpress.com/.

Friends of The Senator Google Grouphttp://groups.google.com/group/friends-of-the-senator-theatre

AstroGirl's Galaxy GuideLaura Serena has a blog which contain MUCH useful information and links: http://astrogirlguides.blogspot.com/

The Senator Community Trust, LLC has been formed and is reaching out to all those interested in keeping the doors open during The Senator’s transition to become the premier community-based arts, education and entertainment venue in the region.

Thanks for your interest...please let us know if you have questions or if you care to get involved!
Attached is another press releases from The Senator Community Trust, and is also printed here for those unable to open or forward pdfs:

*********************FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE************************
New Senator Community Trust Seeking Broad Community Involvement

Upcoming town hall meeting will involve broader community in efforts to acquire Baltimore’s beloved Senator Theatre.

Baltimore, Maryland March 4, 2009 -- The new Senator Community Trust (SCT) announced today a public town hall meeting, scheduled for Saturday, March 14 at 1:00 PM at The Senator Theatre, 5904 York Road, Baltimore, Maryland. The SCT will seek input on options for future structures and uses for the theatre, and outline a plan for community-based acquisition of The Senator.

Members of the community who are working closely with current Senator management and city officials to try to stabilize and facilitate a smooth transition for the theatre will be on hand to discuss the varied film, music, arts, and educational uses that may become part of The Senator’s programming schedule in the near future. Many of these uses have already been demonstrated in recent events at The Senator.

The SCT plans to present an overview of the current financial picture, and announce the first phase of its capital campaign to raise money to stabilize The Senator’s immediate financial crisis and stop the impending foreclosure and auction.

“The Senator’s immediate financial crisis is very real. Unless the broader Senator community takes action now to raise money and bring the mortgage current, we are going to lose this landmark to auction and an uncertain future in the coming weeks,” said Sean Brescia who has been working to try to raise awareness for the urgency of the situation. “This is bigger than any one neighborhood. This is a city, state and even national icon, and we’re all stakeholders with an interest in The Senator’s future. It’s time to act on that.”

The formation of the Senator Community Trust and its vision are based on extensive feedback during a series of public meetings that began in early 2008. All interested members of the public and media are welcome and encouraged to attend. Representatives from city and state government and local foundations will also be invited.

About The Senator Community Trust LLC: To foster the vision of the Senator Theatre as a community-based non-profit organization, a group of local community and business leaders has organized The Senator Community Trust, LLC. The Senator Community Trust has as its mission the preservation, protection, and restoration of Baltimore’s cherished landmark, the historic Senator Theatre. The Senator Community Trust is working with theatre management toward community ownership of the theatre building.

Contact: Sherry Holland-Senter The Senator Community Trust, LLC senatorcommunitytrust@gmail.com

PDF Version

Thanks for your attention to this matter!


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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Senator’s Battle for Watchmen

I know some of you who have been watching this closely are probably aware that there was some doubt as to whether The Senator would run Watchmen. From what I’m hearing, it seems that there was a brief period where Warner Bros. rescinded the film booking, due to the city's harsh stance and their alarming comments in the recent Daily Record article, where an elected official indicated that the theatre may close for "a month." That understandably spooked the studio and I hear they pulled the date with a call to the theatre last Friday evening. The resourceful folks at The Senator have once again worked their magic and prevailed. The run is now back on!

The near-miss incident illustrates the fact that closing the theatre, for ANY length of time, would sever the ongoing relationships with the film distribution and exhibition industry.

Tom Kiefaber has observed in the past that The Senator needs the film distributors, but they do not need The Senator. Most single-screens left in the nation don't offer first-run films like Watchmen. The Senator's ability to do so involves many factors, including the two "move-over" screens at The Rotunda. Kiefaber has been candid that the theatre's cash-flow difficulties are a negative factor, but that the distributors continue to work with them based on The Senator's legacy in the industry and Tom's 30-year working relationship with them. If that critical ongoing relationship ends abruptly, the distributors may do what they have done in other situations: they may push what Tom had called the "game over" button in licensing films to The Senator. That would make it difficult or impossible for the theatre to ever offer first-run films again in the future, regardless of who is in control when the theatre reopens.

In this case, even a rumor of a possible closure made WB nervous enough to pull the film, so this factor obviously needs to be taken seriously. Tom Kiefaber has built these relationships over decades, and they are precious. We need to make sure The Senator does not close during the transition, so those relationships can be maintained.

What is not well understood is that Tom's position for some time now has been that he can no longer preserve and protect the Senator and that ownership of the theatre needs to convert to community-based non-profit entity in a manner that keeps the theatre in operation. A seamless process could improve the theatre's present difficulties with "slow pay" to the film distributors, while leaving intact the critical link to the film industry.

At the January press conference, it was made clear that closure may be imminent, which is why the call was made by Tom and the community leaders for the city and state representatives to come to the table with the owner and the business and residential community. The "offer," which the city made public in response, does not indicate that they understand the necessity of keeping the theatre in operation during the transition. Their lack of understanding of the necessity of keeping the theatre open is illustrated by Bill Henry’s public statement in the Daily Record article about the probability of closure. He obviously thinks shutting it down for a month to upgrade is acceptable.

This also illustrates why many in the community are beginning to understand that, debts or no debts, it's important to utilize Kiefaber's lifetime of experience during the transition that he has been trying to bring about for the past few years. He wants a community based non-profit to take over. The community wants that as well. Everyone has been quite clear about this for a while now.

Tom is saying that he's looking forward to moving on, once The Senator is in a "safe harbor." This makes perfect sense to me. His lifetime of experience in the industry, however, and his wealth of connections, many with celebrities, are not something that should be thrown away lightly.

The city, the community, and all of us who are following this should respond quickly to assist in the efforts to keep the theatre in operation. While we are all focused on the theatre's future, it seems that we are really not heeding the owner's attempts to inform us of how quickly the theatre could shut down in our midst. The Senator is in a crisis situation, and we need to respond immediately.

The guy has debts that are increasing while he tries to keep the patient alive. His is a message that all who love The Senator and care about its future must respond to. The debts, which he took on as a consequence of his mission to keep the Senator operating, are now being used to discredit him and affix blame. That may soon lead to the very thing this guy has devoted his life to preventing. A pretty cruel irony, from my perspective. We all need to wake up and smell the popcorn.

Just my opinion.

What can we do if we want to support The Senator immediately? Go to the movie this weekend. Take all your friends. Email your friends and ask them to go.

Stay tuned to this blog for future developments, as things are happening fast.

I also want to recommend Tom Harris's Friends of The Senator Theatre blog and there's also a Friends of the Senator Theatre google group, started by Richard Tryzno Ellsberry.

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Watchmen to Watch Over The Senator

Calling all fanboys and fangirls! The new Zack Snyder film WATCHMEN starts at The Senator this Thursday, March 5th at Midnight. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, WATCHMEN concerns a group of ordinary, flawed human beings who take on superhero identities. Only one of the characters, Dr. Manhattan, has superhuman powers.

The Senator, often ranked in national media as one of the top movie theatres in the entire country, is the finest showcase in the area for an event film like WATCHMEN. The technical presentation is of the highest quality, which prompted the Theatre Alignment Program (TAP), a rigorous system of technical quality measurement designed by LucasFilms, to rank The Senator as one of the top theatres in the country for technical excellence.

After the midnight opening on Thursday, regular times for the movie will be at 1:00, 4:15, and 7:30 PM, with an additional 10:30 PM late show on Fridays and Saturdays.

Come see WATCHMEN as it ought to be seen!

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