The screening of Baltimore Growth trend: Charles Theater complex plans to add four movies to bolster business.

October 17, 1997

ALL of a sudden, Baltimore's art movie business is exploding. The Senator Theater, on York Road, plans to add two screens to its 900-seat movie house. The Power Plant at the Inner Harbor is about to announce a cluster of eight screens as part of its entertainment mix. And the Charles Theater, near Penn Station, aims at building four new screens.

"When we get the movies we want to get, we can do pretty well. This expansion will put us in the position to get more of the movies that we want to get," explains James "Buzz" Cusack, one of the owners of the Charles.

What a difference three years make. In early 1994, the 485-seat Charles was on the verge of extinction. But after a three-month closure, it reopend with new investors and a more focused business plan. As the economy improved, so did the Charles' niche business. Today, its flexible programming -- including Sunday morning brunches and discussions about a particular feature film -- has paved the way for an ambitious expansion.

The augmented Charles would take in the entire east side of the 1700 block of North Charles Street, except for the long-boarded-up Chesapeake Restaurant property. Space for the additional screens would come from reconfiguring the cavernous Famous Ballroom, which has been vacant since 1986. Of the existing tenants, the Everyman Theater would remain. Cafe Metropol, however, would be relocated within the block.

Decades ago, this stretch was famous for its night life. If its expansion materializes, the Charles could serve as a magnet for other entertainment-oriented businesses in the area. As the noted philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once observed, "It's deja vu all over again."

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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