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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Study: Arts events generate money for local economy

I recently learned of a study done by Americans for the Arts that measures the economic impact on local economies of non-profit arts organizations.

Attendance at arts events generates related commerce for local businesses such as restaurants, parking garages, hotels, and retail stores. Data collected from 94,478 attendees at a range of events reveal an average spending of $27.79 per person, per event—in additionto the cost of admission. This spending generated an estimated $103.1 billion of valuable revenue for local merchants and their communities in 2005.

Click here to read the study.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Kiefaber: WTMD good fit for Senator Theatre

The Baltimore Sun has a Letter to the Editor from Tom Kiefaber today. Click here to read it, and also my response.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Senator: Architect John J. Zink's best known theatre

I had a realization today that when I or other Senator supporters speak of The Senator being architecturally significant or a work of art, many people do not understand this. This could be through no fault of their own, but only because they don't know the history. Perhaps it's time to educate the public a bit about why The Senator is a significant piece of architectural art, listed on the National Register of Historic Places for a reason.

The Senator was designed by famous theatre architect John J. Zink. If you do a Google search on "John J. Zink architect," you'll find that The Senator is repeatedly referred to as the best known of his theatres. Zink was known for designing in the art moderne or art deco style, which is sublimely embodied in The Senator Theatre.

The historic theatre reference web site Cinema Treasures lists 30 theatres that were designed by Zink, all of them in Maryland, DC, or Virginia. He was a native of Baltimore and his designs were concentrated in the Mid-Atlantic region. Zink was a protege of another famous theatre architect, Thomas W. Lamb. John J. Zink designed more theatres than just the 30 listed on Cinema Treasures. One web site I saw claimed the number was around 200, but most are long since gone.

Of the 30 Zink theatres listed on Cinema Treasures, just 6 are listed as open. These are The Senator Theatre and the Patterson Theatre in Baltimore (but it should be noted that the Patterson has been significantly altered from its original design), the Atlas Performing Arts Center and the Uptown Theatre in Washington, DC, the Commodore Theatre in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Maryland. The other 24 Zink theatres listed on Cinema Treasures have all been closed or demolished.

The Senator is repeatedly noted as Zink's best known achievement. It would be a tragedy if a rushed RFP process with a lack of input from historic theatre and preservation professionals caused irreparable harm to this significant and rare architectural treasure.

I would also like to add that The Senator did not become one of the few surviving John J. Zink theatres or the best known or listed on the National Register of Historic Places on its own. Those preservation wins and the theatre's well-deserved national reputation were all the work of Tom Kiefaber, his family, and his loyal staff over the years.

John J. Zink made The Senator a beautiful work of art. Tom Kiefaber and his associates made The Senator famous, nationally recognized, and a place where so many wonderful events have happened over the years that people all over Baltimore and elsewhere have their own delightful memories of The Senator. It would be well to remember that as we anticipate the next phase in The Senator's history.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

More thoughts on proposals for The Senator

The Sun paper is asking for comments about the 4 proposals the BDC received on The Senator. I posted one, but I know from experience that the Sun seems to have an agenda with regard to The Senator, so I'm posting my comment here in its entirety:

The Senator Theatre is a significant historic landmark on the National Register, and it's clear from the way the BDC is handling this process that they don't understand its value as a piece of history and art, or its potential to generate tourism dollars. If they did, they would be consulting historic theatre experts from around the country on how best to proceed. Some version of a community based non-profit model has worked well for historic theatres all over the country. Indeed, among the theatres that have won the annual award from the League of Historic American Theatres, based here in Baltimore, all past winners take donations from the public, non-profit style.

Among the four proposals submitted:

The Lofts proposal from J R Owens is a joke. I can't believe anyone would take it seriously. I think the whole immediate neighborhood will unite against that one.

The proposal from Charles owner Cusack would butcher the historic building, dividing the auditorium and destroying the original bathrooms. Definitely a no go.

The PUPKids Theatre proposal probably doesn't have the money, since Enoch Cook III was at the pre-proposal conference asking if the city would fix the roof, because he only has the money to lease the theatre for a few months. So that won't work, unless he's since gotten financing.

The WTMD/Towson proposal shows some promise, but I would not be able to support it without seeing the full proposal, specifically their plans for restoring and caring for this precious historic facility. The mix of programming they are proposing is very similar to what The Senator is currently doing, and what Senator volunteers have been proposing all along.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, November 23, 2009

UPDATED: BDC Receives Proposals for Senator RFP

A press release from the BDC lists the 4 responses they got to The Senator RFP:

1. The Lofts at The Senator proposal from J.R. Owen, which calls for 3 stories of apartments and associated parking to be built, along with a renovation of the theatre. No details were given in the press release of the extent of the renovation or the operation model for the theatre.

I'm fairly sure my neighbors in the immediate area are not going to like this proposal. I would bet there will be significant opposition to concentrated new housing going in right there, not to mention the parking garage.

2. Proposal from Buzz Cusack, owner of the Charles Theater to expand The Senator along Rosebank Avenue.

I happen to know, because I was at The Senator when Cusack's team toured the theatre and I overheard things, that this proposal also entails turning the Men's and Ladies' lounges and restrooms into restaurants. There will be a creperie in the crapper, henceforth to be known as the Craperie. The men's lounge/restroom will apparently be a tapas restaurant.

Folks, The Senator is a significant historic building on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the finest examples of a theatre designed by famous architect John Zink. To put restaurants into the lounge/restroom areas, which are significant parts of the design in terms of the male/female symbolism built into them, is butchery of the historic building as far as I'm concerned. This needs to be stopped. Totally unacceptable mutilation of the building.

If you've been following my blog, you also know that Buzz Cusack has conflicts of interest here. He sits on the CHAP commission which imposed restrictions on the interior spaces of the building just before the City's auction of the building, helping to depress the sale price. Also, the film clearance policy at the Charles has negatively impacted The Senator over the years and greatly contributed to the financial troubles The Senator has had.

Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry also sits on the CHAP commission, along with Cusack, and was reportedly the one pushing for the CHAP restrictions on the interior of The Senator (which don't seem to be strong enough to prevent the Craperie). It's interesting to note, then, that a few years ago, the Abell Foundation was looking at funding the expansions of both The Senator and the Charles, but in the end, they only expanded the Charles, giving it a significant competitive advantage over The Senator.

Anyone who attended a town hall, hosted by Marc Steiner and the SCT at The Senator earlier this year, may also remember that the lady that owns Sofi's Crepes, next to the Charles Theater, made a comment during the question and answer period that was basically a complaint that if her business was in trouble, she wouldn't ask for help from taxpayers. Of course, comparing her business to a significant historic landmark is ludicrous, as was pointed out by Sean Brescia, who was helping to host the town hall. Marc Steiner, however, shot Mr. Brescia down and accused him of being rude to the crepe lady. At least some of the public bought into it, judging by comments I heard later. I wonder if these members of the public would have reacted differently if they understood that the crepe lady had a financial interest in seeing The Senator taken from Tom Kiefaber, since she now may be able to expand her business to The Senator if Mr. Cusack's RFP is approved.

The Senator can and should be an economic anchor for the local business district, drawing people to the area and putting patrons into local businesses. The BDC acknowledges that. So let's think about that for a second. Do we want to encourage people to patronize the local restaurants? Or do we want The Senator to compete with the local restaurants? It seems to me that two restaurants in The Senator would not help the local restaurants in any way.

Buzz Cusack's business practices and the CHAP commission on which he sits have contributed to reasons The Senator was recently taken from the family that built it. The fact that he would even submit a proposal is, frankly, predatory. Combine that distasteful situation with the idea of eating craps (I mean crepes!) out of the former bathroom, and there are many reasons to dislike this proposal already.

There was, I thought, one aspect of this proposal that I might have liked, if it were done correctly (and I'd have to see the full proposal, but I now understand Buzz doesn't plan to do it correctly). It was my understanding, until I got more information, that this proposal expanded The Senator along the Rosebank side into the triangle area behind the theatre, to add at least one additional auditorium. If that were true, this would be one aspect of the proposal that would be probably fine, but only if the plan did not encroach on the existing auditorium.

Tom Kiefaber has had architectural drawings done in the past to build additional auditoriums on the side of the building, without changing the original auditorium. At one time, I believe he had the permits to expand in this way.

It's basically impossible to run a single-screen theatre profitably, at least if it has a first-run film policy. Most historic theatres that have been successful have added auditoriums. Here's a note to my neighbors who think they want first-run movies at The Senator: if The Senator goes back to a film-only operation model, it's going to need to be expanded. You can't say you want first-run films at The Senator, but you don't want it to expand. The two positions are mutually exclusive.

UPDATE: Buzz Cusack apparently doesn't just plan to add an additional auditorium along Rosebank Ave, as I had hoped. Apparently, he plans to butcher the original auditorium, dividing it in two. Here's the quote from the Daily Record:

“When you have another screen, you have more flexibility,” Kathleen Cusack said. “If you have a second screen and you have a movie that isn’t making a lot of money, you can move it there and put something else on the main screen.”


If the Cusacks add a 120-seat theater to the Senator, the main auditorium would shrink from 940 seats to 760. Cusack said the smaller theater could be used as an arts education area.

This is wrong and must not be allowed to happen.

3. The Theatre Project PUPKIDS, Inc. - Proposal to have mixed entertainment uses at The Senator, including a puppet theatre. There is no mention in the BDC's press release that this RFP includes any renovation component. I would be surprised if it does, since I spoke to the gentleman, Enoch Cook III, who put in this proposal at the pre-proposal conference at The Senator, and he did not appear to be well-funded at the time. Of course, it's always possible he has obtained financing since then.

4. WTMD at The Senator - Proposal from Towson University's WTMD radio station. (UPDATE: A blog post from WTMD lists a few more details.) Mentions renovation and expansion of The Senator. I would like to see the plan to see if the renovation is sufficient and if the plan is sensitive to the historic nature of the building.

By the way, does anyone else notice that Stephen Yasko's description of WTMD's proposal sounds like a blatant rip-off of exactly what Tom Kiefaber has been publicly proposing, and what The Senator has been doing recently? So what's wrong with this picture? Perhaps it's that Tom and his staff, who made The Senator the nationally renowned theatre that it is today, have been excluded from the process.

The Sun Paper mentioned that developer David Cordish submitted a proposal, but this does not seem to be the case.

It remains to be seen whether the details of any of these proposals will provide sufficient funds and preservation know-how to restore the historic building as it should be restored. If not, it would be missing a golden opportunity to ensure The Senator's preservation for future generations if Baltimore City were to go forward with any proposal that is inferior to what should be required.

The Senator is now the People's Theater, owned by the citizens of Baltimore City. We deserve to have our city government respect this important historic landmark and beloved local attraction and ensure its preservation in perpetuity. Time must be allowed for a study to be done of what the theatre and the surrounding area really need, historic theatre and preservation experts must be consulted, and a community-based non-profit ownership approach to the theatre's future must be incubated, as has been done so successfully in other communities. We shouldn't allow public property to be dealt off to private developers without ensuring that the public's interests and the historic nature of the building are being respected.

P.S. I want to be clear that all of the above is my personal opinion, and does not in any way represent Friends of The Senator or The Senator.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Join Friends of The Senator to Keep Up with RFP Process

The deadline for parties interested in owning or operating The Senator Theatre to submit an RFP to the BDC was today at noon.

The Senator Theatre volunteer and advocacy group, Friends of The Senator will be following the process and keeping you updated on the proposals. The group was founded by Tom Harris two years ago and has been volunteering to help keep The Senator open and operating since April. I know there are other groups out there purporting to be advocacy groups with some sort of interest in the theatre, but Friends of The Senator is the only advocacy group that has been coming in the theatre's doors on a regular basis and working as volunteers.

I've been volunteering 7 days a week most weeks at the theatre (which is why my blogging has slowed down a lot), so naturally I've joined forces with Friends of The Senator. I hope you will join us as we advocate for complete restoration of the historic building and for The Senator to continue its tradition of being the premiere community-oriented arts and entertainment venue in the region while transitioning to non-profit ownership.

Become a fan of Friends of The Senator on Facebook.

Keep up to date on the Friends of The Senator blog.

Follow us on twitter.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,