One day left to scramble and save the Senator

February 20, 2007|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,Sun reporter

With one day left before the scheduled auction of the historic Senator Theatre, owner Tom Kiefaber is still short of the amount needed to pay off his debt -- an amount that has increased by nearly $20,000 since he first learned of the foreclosure.

"They moved the goal posts again," Kiefaber said after learning of the new figure.

The Senator's Web site was reporting $93,100 had been donated to save the theater -- about $17,000 short of the $110,000 that 1st Mariner Bank says Kiefaber needed, as of yesterday, to restore his loan.

Kiefaber continued accepting offers of assistance yesterday, and a special event -- one that was free but encouraged donations -- was scheduled at the theater last night.

The 68-year-old theater is slated for auction tomorrow, and Kiefaber has until then to pay off his debt.

That debt, which originally was placed at $93,000, had grown to $106,000 by Friday, and was up to nearly $110,000 yesterday.

The bank is not enforcing a provision in the agreement under which it could collect the full amount of the $1.2 million loan, but it is demanding that Kiefaber get up to date on his payments and pay expenses connected to the foreclosure.

As of yesterday, those expenses totaled $22,400, about half of which is for attorney's fees, according to a letter to Kiefaber from the attorney handling the foreclosure. Most of the rest is for legal advertising.

The letter makes clear that the $110,000 applied to the loan being brought up to date yesterday. By tomorrow, the amount will likely be even higher.

Kiefaber declined to comment to a Sun reporter yesterday, saying he was busy dealing with other news media that he said were "a little more inclusive in the way they do business." The remark was apparently in reference to a Sunday profile of Kiefaber in The Sun, which, in an e-mail, he criticized for not including remarks from people he thought should have been interviewed.

The theater was scheduled to hold a free event last night, where donations to the Save Our Senator fund were encouraged. It was to feature the Alloy Orchestra performing during a showing of the 1928 silent movie Speedy.

Speedy, which stars Harold Lloyd and features Babe Ruth playing himself, is a "David and Goliath story [that] depicts how one person can take on industrial giants," according to an advertisement for the event.

Supporters of the theater continued to plot new ways to drum up support via the Senator's Web site (senator.com) -- and one yesterday called for a mass letter-writing campaign to 1st Mariner Chairman and CEO Edwin F. Hale.

The posting quotes from a letter signed by Hale that appears on the bank's Web site in which he says he started the bank because he was "tired of the big out-of-town banks constantly hitting customers with more and more fees every month. ... We're your hometown bank; not some out-of-state, out-of-touch, banking giant. We've ... [made] it easy to do business ... personal and friendly, the way banking should be."

Hale has declined to discuss the Senator's situation because the matter is in litigation.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the president of the Theatre Historical Society of America, Karen Colizzi Noonan, called upon state and local leaders and the community to "make sure that the Senator remains as an important part of the fabric of Baltimore life. Once it's gone, it can never be replaced."

The organization of theater, architecture and history enthusiasts has scheduled its 2009 convention in Baltimore because so much of its membership wants to see the Senator, she said.

"I call it our poster child. It's the benchmark by which all other theater restoration and re-use projects are measured and a sterling example of a single-screen, historic movie palace surviving against the odds in a multiplexed America."

john.woestendiek@baltsun.com

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