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

Monday, June 08, 2009

Further Thoughts on The Senator's Conversion (Pun Intended)

Well, now that it seems Baltimore City officials have placed The Senator firmly on the track toward becoming an evangelical mega-church, how are they trying to undo the damage? By promising retribution after the fact.

The BDC's Kim Clark and 4th District Councilman Bill Henry recently threatened to control the situation by taking away The Senator's parking.

But she and Henry noted a deterrent to a congregation could be an existing agreement that allows for use of the parking lot across the street from the Senator only if the property remains in use as a theater.

Oh yeah. That's going to work real well (NOT!) --- let a church buy The Senator at auction and then try to take away their parking. This kind of meddling in a property owner's affairs may have worked to some extent to harass current Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, but do these city politicians really want to take on a whole congregation of churchgoers? Talk about a political landmine!

And what happens when the pastor realizes he can probably sue Baltimore City over constitutional issues related to church/state separation and remove ANY controls they try to put on use of The Senator, including the city's recent interior landmark designation?

But at least Bill Henry gave some insight into the city's thinking on this issue when, at a recent public meeting, he indicated the way they'd take away The Senator's parking is by making a deal with the owner of the Staples parking lot (currently also The Senator's parking lot), developer David Cordish, who Henry indicated has already agreed to go along with that.

On a separate, but related note, Bill Henry seems not to have gotten the message that Kim Clark, Joan Pratt and others agreed to at the May 20th meeting at The Senator --- the message about how it would be good for taxpayers if The Senator is sold at auction so the city can get its recent investment back (and its only investment in The Senator for the past 10 years).

If the goal is to get the city's investment back, why is Bill Henry trying to scare bidders away from the auction by pulling big numbers out of thin air and passing them off as estimates for the cost of renovations and upgrades on The Senator? This $500K number has no basis in reality, that I'm aware of. I'm sure it would be possible to spend that much over time, especially if doing a full restoration, but the cost to continue to run the theatre under new ownership would be nowhere near that. (I am speaking here as a volunteer who has been in the theatre for several hours almost every day for the past two months. Trust me, I have a good feel for the condition of the building.)

It's time for Baltimore City officials to recognize that the way to save the day in this situation is to come to the table with community leaders, the public, Senator owner Tom Kiefaber, and other interested parties, as they were requested to do back in January, and figure out how The Senator can transition into a non-profit multipurpose entertainment venue, and NOT a religious non-profit! Now, it's entirely possible that they planned to get around to that under the city's RFP process, but they made one miscalculation: they assumed nobody would buy The Senator at auction for over $1 Million. Now that it's clear that The Senator's national and international brand is worth a lot more than they bargained for, and that there are several probable bidders, time to rethink the game plan and do the right thing for The Senator while it's still possible.

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