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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Letter to Mayor from Karen Noonan, President of Theatre Historical Society of America

Karen Colizzi Noonan, president of the Theatre Historical Society of America, has written a letter to Mayor Rawlings-Blake, joining Friends of The Senator in calling for historic theatre preservation and redevelopment experts to be brought into the Senator RFP selection process. Her letter is quoted below:

Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Mayor, City of Baltimore
100 N. Holliday Street Room 250
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Dear Mayor Rawlings-Blake:

As President of Theatre Historical Society of America, I write to you today to convey my unconditional support for the careful and considered reuse of the Senator Theatre, one of America’s most recognizable historic theaters.

Further, I implore you as a matter of responsible stewardship, to include an experienced, knowledgeable historic preservation expert with specific expertise in theater preservation, on the BDC panel charged with deciding the Senator’s future.

The BDC has already reached out to the League of Historic American Theaters, located in Baltimore, to supply written input. It is imperative that such an expert physically sits on the commission and has the opportunity to give on-going guidance and consultation as part of the deliberations.

The Senator’s storied façade is revered nationally and internationally as an icon of Art Deco design in general and theater architectural history specifically. The Senator’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places demands that those responsible for its care take every step within their power to protect the integrity, viability and historic nature of the structure.

Your administration has a small window of opportunity to create a safe environment for the Senator’s to flourish in the decades to come. The eyes of the Preservation Community are on Baltimore as this historic decision is made. Please feel free to call on Theatre Historical Society or me for assistance at any time.


Karen Colizzi Noonan
President, Theatre Historical Society of America

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Take Action: Send a letter to the Mayor

Please join Friends of The Senator's campaign to ask Mayor Rawlings-Blake to intervene in the Senator RFP selection process, and require the BDC to open up the process and allow objective, bona fide historic theatre redevelopment consultants and film industry experts to weigh in on the Senator RFPs.

The Senator is a significant national landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. This decision is too important to be made by people who do not understand the issues involved. There is nothing wrong with consulting people who have experience in the field.

Please send the letter yourself, and then forward the link far and wide:


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Letter to Mayor Rawlings-Blake

To The Honorable Mayor Rawlings-Blake:

I recently served on the Baltimore Development Corporation’s [BDC] Senator Theatre RFP advisory panel, along with other community leaders, as the sole representative of the Friends of The Senator [FOTS] group. I approached my duties on the RFP panel with optimism, determined to represent the interests and concerns of the FOTS and help identify an optimal future for Baltimore’s beloved Senator Theatre.

The Senator is a revered Baltimore City landmark and a celebrated State of Maryland historic showplace. It is also a renowned historic monument on the National Register of Historic Places and a source of pride among Senator enthusiasts and preservation groups nationwide, as well as a source of concern regarding its uncertain future.

I have invested considerable time and resources to research the complex issues involved with The Senator’s status as an endangered national historic landmark, and its future redevelopment and preservation potential based on successful models across the nation. My research was very encouraging, and I looked forward with enthusiasm and good faith to help produce an informed representative assessment of the two RFPs.

Madam Mayor, I applaud your intention to bring a new level of transparency and integrity to Baltimore City government practices, including the BDC. You have more support than you may imagine in that regard. In that light, I feel it is my responsibility to inform you and the public that based on my in-depth discussions with film exhibition professionals and historic theatre redevelopment experts, the alarming manner in which the BDC is conducting the Senator Theatre RFP selection process is procedurally flawed, and it must be rectified.

The process lacks the expertise and crucial transparency required for a high-profile civic redevelopment project that to date has required the investment of over a million dollars in taxpayer funds. It must become more objective and transparent as soon as possible. The Senator RFPs need objective scrutiny by industry experts to advise the panel and the BDC board, if the results, which they expect you to bless in announcing the new ownership and future direction of the Senator Theatre, are to have any validity. At this point, the RFP process is a shambles.

A key issue is the BDC’s refusal to allow a qualified historic theatre redevelopment consultant and a film exhibition expert to actively assist the citizen panel and the BDC in the professional evaluation of the two RFPs under consideration.

The Senator’s transition to new ownership and operation has many aspects to consider, including mercurial film industry dynamics, historic theatre preservation concerns and tax credit issues, evolution in programming models, deriving maximum economic benefits for the community, and models for non-profit structure and fundraising for historic theatres. It is vitally important to bring on board objective industry experts with successful track records from consulting on and managing similar projects nationwide. The industry experts have the professional experience required in managing the transition of an historic motion picture theatre like The Senator from its outmoded, single-screen first-run business model to a restored, thriving entertainment venue that delivers the maximum economic and cultural benefits to the community in perpetuity.

The Senator’s former owner, Tom Kiefaber, previously brought industry expert John Lind of Venuetech, Inc. from California to Baltimore as a consultant to meet with the extended community, and his knowledge and insights regarding The Senator’s future non-profit incarnation were invaluable. Mr. Lind is an accomplished historic theatre redevelopment professional who has the high level of experience and an impressive portfolio of success that would greatly assist the BDC’s mandate to identify an optimal outcome for the Senator RFP process. The FOTS believe that John Lind is an ideal candidate, although he is certainly not the only option available.

The BDC must reach out to include objective industry experts like Mr. Lind. These experts have developed a set of established procedures over the years, through many successful historic theatre redevelopment projects nationwide, to ensure that the final RFP recommendation submitted to you has been determined in the most credible and informed manner possible. So far, the BDC representatives have simply insisted on keeping the Senator RFP process shrouded in secrecy. In light of your recent reassurances to the citizens of Baltimore that your administration will lift Baltimore’s City Hall above and beyond its widely sullied reputation, I hope you will agree that this odd and provocative stance by the BDC is simply unacceptable, and that it warrants your thoughtful intervention.

Until qualified historic theatre redevelopment professionals are allowed into the mix in earnest, I cannot in good conscience participate further in the BDC’s tainted Senator Theatre RFP evaluation process. After careful consideration of the circumstances, I have resigned from the Senator RFP panel in protest and informed the BDC of my position in writing on behalf of the Friends of the Senator group, who support my actions on their behalf.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter. I trust that you and your staff will assess the seriousness of this situation and agree with the FOTS group and others regarding the wisdom of encouraging the BDC leadership to open up the process and fulfill their mandate and responsibility to engage expert industry professionals in the Senator RFP evaluation process. This potentially damaging controversy will otherwise continue to escalate and potentially undermine the professional credibility of all concerned.


Laura Perkins
Friends of The Senator

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Statement on purchase of 446 Rosebank Ave.

UPDATE 6/27/2013: Since City Paper recently published an inaccurate statement that I own 446 Rosebank, I need to set the record straight. I do not own, nor did I ever own, this property. If you've ever dealt with foreclosure auctions, you know there is a period of time between the bid and the actual completion of the purchase. Baltimore City prevented me from completing this purchase, when they confirmed that they would not respect the rights of the property owner, when it came to their development project next door at The Senator Theatre. I lost a significant sum of money on this attempted purchase, and I'm considering a lawsuit against Baltimore City.

To whom it may concern,

On Friday, February 19th, I purchased the home and property located at 446 Rosebank Ave. at a foreclosure auction, which had been widely publicized within our community and beyond. The auction sale triggered speculation regarding my motives and my plans for the property, which is contiguous with The Senator Theatre property in the rear of the site.

I am one of the core volunteers with the Friends of The Senator Theatre group, and I share the group’s rising concerns over the flawed Senator RFP process that the Baltimore Development Corporation is conducting. I was also the sole Friends of The Senator representative on the BDC's RFP advisory panel.

Despite serious past concerns over the manner in which Baltimore City acquired ownership of The Senator, I resolved to approach with optimism the city’s RFP evaluation process and I extended the BDC leadership the benefit of the doubt. I hoped for a thorough process that would give unbiased objective evaluation to the proposals. I quickly became alarmed, however, over the inappropriate secrecy of the RFP process and the BDC’s repeated flat refusals to allow bona fide historic theatre redevelopment and film industry professionals to consult with the RFP panel. From my perspective, the BDC’s insular and uninformed stance puts both The Senator’s future and over a million dollars in scarce city taxpayer funds at great risk.

It's a scandalous situation, and in response, I pointedly resigned in protest from the RFP panel. My resignation came shortly after the BDC leaders stated that the 446 Rosebank Ave property, which Tom Kiefaber acquired 15 years ago because he believes it is critical to The Senator's future, has no real significance to the two Senator RFPs under consideration. As a Senator RFP panel member, I knew this was false information.

That inaccurate assertion, like many previous BDC pronouncements, was clearly intended to mislead the citizens of Baltimore by using the media and our city council representatives to spread disinformation. Combined with the BDC’s refusal to consult with qualified experts in evaluating the RFPs, it was the last straw.

I’ve now personally inhabited a back room at the BDC and experienced first hand how this quasi-public agency effectively fosters incorrect beliefs among a jaded public, by trading in false and misleading information. A recent Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism study of key news stories in Baltimore, including the auction of The Senator Theatre, noted that the downsizing Baltimore media rarely fulfills its fourth estate mandate to verify the accuracy of the government's statements.

I am relatively new here in Baltimore, and I still cling to our nation's diminishing democratic ideals, the constitution, and the private property rights of each and every citizen. I blog as "Astrogirl,” and I spent much of the past year investigating how a few powerful individuals in city government and at the BDC have repeatedly abused Tom Kiefaber and violated his civil rights, while misrepresenting the situation to the media in ways intended to defame and undermine his professional reputation. The inaccuracy of the BDC’s past attacks on Mr. Kiefaber was shockingly easy to discover, and it chilled me to the bone to learn how Baltimore's embedded culture of corruption and manipulation operates with seeming impunity.

The research has opened my eyes, and once I saw Baltimore’s “shadow government” in action, it was apparent that enough is enough. Someone from our community other than Tom Kiefaber has to step up, as he has done over the years despite threats of retribution, and take an overt, public stand against the abuse of governmental power in Baltimore City by the BDC and the city government. Where I come from, local government and their related institutions don’t assume they can indulge in this level of corrupt manipulation, because the citizens will ultimately stand up to be counted and do something about it.

I acted on my convictions last Friday and bought the 446 Rosebank Ave. property at auction, as the only private bidder. A BDC representative was present to observe the auction of the property they deemed inconsequential. As the successful bidder, I plan to assert my rights as the adjacent residential property owner to The Senator and occupy a legitimate seat at the table as the Senator RFP situation unfolds.

I stepped up for good reason, because The Senator’s passionate past protector and steward has been neutralized and sidelined, and the theatre’s future is at stake and endangered by the politically tainted Senator RFP selection process.

I do not agree in the slightest with the BDC’s public and private assertion that 446 Rosebank Ave. is inconsequential to the RFP process, and the pointed inquiries I’ve received in the past few days validate my firm belief that Mr. Kiefaber was right all along. The 446 property is logistically, geographically, and strategically linked to The Senator Theatre and its future. That will undoubtedly become more apparent to all as things evolve.

Increasing my vested ownership stake in the community at this time should indicate that I am determined to help ensure that the future of The Senator Theatre will ultimately be decided through an open and transparent historic theatre redevelopment process, and not the shrouded RFP sham currently being perpetrated by the Baltimore Development Corporation.


Laura Perkins
Purchaser of 446 Rosebank Ave.

UPDATE 6/27/2013: Since City Paper recently published an inaccurate statement that I own 446 Rosebank, I need to set the record straight. I do not own, nor did I ever own, this property. If you've ever dealt with foreclosure auctions, you know there is a period of time between the bid and the actual completion of the purchase. Baltimore City prevented me from completing this purchase, when they confirmed that they would not respect the rights of the property owner, when it came to their development project next door at The Senator Theatre. I lost a significant sum of money on this attempted purchase, and I'm considering a lawsuit against Baltimore City.

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