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

Monday, September 21, 2009

BDC Issues Senator Theatre RFP

The Senator Theatre RFP is available. Proposals are due by November 20th. You can download it from the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), if you want to register on their site. Otherwise, you can download it without registering here.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Senator Theatre Auction and Why it Won’t Be Contested

Baltimore City and the Baltimore Development Corporation [BDC] are set to finalize their takeover of The Senator Theatre on September 19th, if no compelling objection to the ratification of the auction is filed with the Baltimore City Circuit Court by the end of Friday, September 18th.

There are numerous reasons why the manipulated results of the recent auction sale of The Senator Theatre should be invalidated by the court, but that’s not going to happen.

Here are some of the primary reasons why the auction results will not be overturned:

Circuit Courts rarely invalidate foreclosure auctions, particularly one that was initiated by the Mayor’s Office of Baltimore City after they bought The Senator Theatre’s commercial loan from 1st Mariner Bank and took on the legal position of the lender.

In these unprecedented circumstances, the City had a legal mandate as the regulated lender to follow established procedures of fairness and impartiality in conducting a foreclosure auction sale of a citizen’s private property.

The authority and responsibility to evaluate and enforce those established lender auction sale regulations, however, is ultimately in the hands of an elected Baltimore City Circuit Court judge.

It’s an outrage that the powers that be in city government and the BDC seized their long sought opportunity to take control of The Senator from its owner, who had simply sought their assistance, along with business and residential leaders, to transition the renowned theatre to not-for-profit, community-based ownership.

In their obvious effort to thwart non-profit ownership conversion of The Senator and gain full control of the theatre (and other strategically located real estate parcels owned by Tom Kiefaber), the City and BDC representatives first impugned his professional reputation through the media, as they have done to others in the past before their property is taken. They then proceeded to become the lender, pointedly undermine the validity of the recent Senator Theatre auction, and control the outcome with a clear sense of impunity.

The best shot at invalidating the auction would be an objection filed by the soon-to-be former property owner, Tom Kiefaber. Tom has made it clear, however, that he cannot object to the court’s ratification of the auction, for unspecified reasons that he refuses to delineate or discuss.

Having followed this unfolding saga and investigated the many odd and circuitous developments, it is safe to assume that Kiefaber’s uncharacteristic refusal to join an effort to resist our city government’s abuses of power is due to his apparent fear of even worse consequences for him and his family.

Tom Kiefaber, devastated by the coordinated attacks on his professional reputation and the corrupt “taking” of his beloved historic theatre by city government, is now behaving like a traumatized and fearful hostage --- one who supports terrorist demands on camera, while off-camera there is clearly a weapon threatening him and his family. It’s a heartbreaking situation for those who understand that a monumental injustice has victimized an accomplished man and his family who have done so much to benefit Baltimore City and our community.

This situation is a recent reminder that something is rotten in Gotham City.

We thought for a while that, as Baltimore City taxpayers, we might be able to put a citizen’s group together of figurative stockholders who have been financially harmed by the lender’s actions, which cheated the citizen/stockholders in an illegitimate scheme intended to benefit a few administrative insiders.

The hope was that a credible citizen activist challenge to the ratification of the auction might have legal standing to file an objection to the ratification of the auction in circuit court. We have received legal advice from more than one attorney discouraging this course of action. We’ve been told that the basic concept and the cumulative documentation that the auction’s outcome was significantly tainted both have merit, but there would be little chance that a Baltimore Circuit Court judge would rule in favor of the owner and the community over the Mayor’s office and the BDC.

Even if a citizen activist effort prevailed in court, the outcome would be to hold a new auction with significantly increased fees, and the folks pulling the levers of power in Baltimore would likely take further punitive action, to the detriment of Tom and his family, putting them in an even worse position. Perhaps that explains Tom’s aversion to the concept and his refusal to even discuss it with our group.

Despite deep concerns over ratification of the sham auction we would never risk triggering further harm and trauma to come to Tom and his family. They’ve made so many personal sacrifices to protect The Senator Theatre, and keep it open and operating in an award-winning fashion, as a classy anchor and source of civic pride since 1939. In fact, we all owe Tom Kiefaber and his extended family a huge debt of gratitude for their consistent success in keeping The Senator intact and operating for 70 years, when so many historic theatres nationwide were shuttered and abandoned.

Now we look ahead to the next step in the process. I hope that through the RFP process we can help to ensure that The Senator will be protected and continue to evolve, as envisioned by its former owner and the community, as the region’s premiere educational and entertainment venue, under non-profit ownership.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hey, City Paper! I'm sick of this issue too!

City Paper notes that The Senator is the "Best Local Issue We're Sick Of." Well, heck! So am I! I would dearly love to be able to go back to my life, knowing that The Senator is in the safe hands of a viable community-based non-profit and that Tom Kiefaber and his staff have finally been recognized and rewarded for all their wonderful work over the years, and that all is right with this corner of the world.

But, guess what? I can't, because I care about The Senator and the people involved, and all is not right in this corner of the world.

Can't we all just get along? Can't Baltimore City do the right thing here?

Well, if I'm not mistaken, this is at least the second time in the past two and a half years or so that City Paper has written about The Senator. So, no wonder they're sick of it, with all that intensive coverage. Take a break from all that hard work, guys!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baltimore’s Last Chance for Film As It Should Be Seen?

I haven’t had time to sit down and watch all of Tyler Perry’s “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” at The Senator yet. I plan to do that during the week, when our all-volunteer staff at The Senator is less busy. After seeing some moments of the film, however, I feel compelled to urge everyone to please give themselves the pleasure of what may be their last chance to see film presentation as it should be.

The craft of fine film presentation is dying. Multiplexes using average equipment hire teenagers to run projectors they barely understand and throw an image up on a relatively small screen with the edges not masked properly. Maybe the image is out of focus. Maybe the sound isn’t right, or isn’t high quality surround sound.

People wait to see movies on DVD and then even the best home theatres can barely match the reduced-quality multiplex experience.

You just don’t see the technical excellence of The Senator’s film presentation anywhere, anymore. For those who appreciate the luminosity of light cast through film and have eyes to see the quality of a sharp, focused, colorful image and hear the richness of awesome sound, this is indeed a painful loss.

Many of The Senator’s patrons realize that there’s something different about seeing a film presented on The Senator’s giant 40 foot screen. But few truly understand that it isn’t just the size and proportions of the auditorium or the screen, but an expert staff that has always striven for excellence. It’s why Michael Sragow, film critic at the Baltimore Sun, wrote:

But the Senator, under Tom Kiefaber, has carried on the tradition of movie theaters as places where audiences of many kinds can view the best movies of any type - action blockbusters like the "Indiana Jones" series, art classics like "The Rules of the Game" and "Rashomon" - with a presentation equal to the craft of the world's best filmmakers.

It’s also why film restoration expert Robert A. Harris was quoted by Sragow as calling The Senator “a beacon of professionalism, showmanship and the love of cinema."

Few realize that Lucasfilm’s Theatre Alignment Project measured various aspects of the film presentation at The Senator and when pressed by Tom Kiefaber for a rating compared to other theatres, acknowledged that The Senator ranks 2nd in the nation for technical excellence.

One of the unsung heroes of The Senator’s history is theatre manager and projectionist Bill Hewitt, who is an expert in all aspects of film presentation, of a caliber almost impossible to find elsewhere anymore. Mr. Hewitt visually inspects each frame of a film print before it is shown at The Senator. He is an expert in the care and preservation of film and the technical aspects of top quality presentation. Mr. Hewitt does not cut corners. He strives to make each show perfect and show the film to its full potential each time.

The lens being used for “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” is the best German lens made. The sound quality on The Senator’s amazing sound system is always excellent. When I looked at a few moments of the film over the weekend, the picture was in perfect focus, the colors were vibrant and rich, the images on the screen of breathtaking quality. I was stunned as I realized that this is how a film should be seen and that, depending on what happens over the next few weeks, this may be the last chance we’ll get to see a film this way.

Baltimore City is taking over The Senator on September 19th, barring some unforeseen reversal of the auction. The auction will be ratified unless there is a legally credible objection presented to the circuit court by September 18th. (Though there are many reasons the auction should be invalidated, that is unlikely to happen.) Once Baltimore City owns The Senator, they will put it through their RFP process to find a new owner and/or operator.

It is hard to imagine that any new operator of The Senator is going to strive for technical excellence, refuse to cut corners, and achieve the high standard of operation that Tom Kiefaber, Bill Hewitt, and the rest of The Senator’s staff continue to achieve up to this moment. Almost nobody else achieves this level of film presentation anymore. Almost nobody tries, and audiences don’t demand it.

Furthermore, the film business is struggling all over the country. Drastically reduced attendance means that the days when The Senator could operate profitably as a first run movie theatre are long over. We’re not talking about a case where another operator with a reduced debt load could cut a few corners and eke out a profit. We’re talking about something that is over and done with, kaput, and totally dead. If this were a Norwegian Blue parrot, it would be pushing up daisies and joining the choir eternal.

That’s why Tom Kiefaber has long been advocating a future for The Senator that involves non-profit ownership of the building and multi-purposes use for the theatre. That’s the way to guarantee The Senator’s survival for the next 70 years. Kiefaber should know. Contrary to the flawed perceptions of certain city and BDC officials, he is a nationally renowned expert in the field.

But meanwhile, top notch film presentation at The Senator may soon be over. Come see something you may not get a chance to see again.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" at The Senator!

First run films return to The Senator Theatre with Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" starting Friday, Sept. 11th.

Tyler Perry, Taraji P. Henson, Adam Rodriguez, Brian J. White, Hope Olaide Wilson & Mary J. Blige

Showtime Information:

Friday, September 11th & Saturday, September 12th
5:15, 7:45 & 10:15pm.

Sunday, September 13th
2:45, 5:15 & 7:45pm.

Mon., Sept. 14th through Thurs., Sept. 17th
5:15 & 7:45pm.

Admission $8 [cash only]

When Madea catches sixteen-year-old Jennifer and her two younger brothers looting her home, she decides to take matters into her own hands and delivers the young delinquents to the only relative they have: their aunt April. A heavy-drinking nightclub singer who lives off of Raymond, her married boyfriend.

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