Senator Theatre months behind on loan

Potential bidders emerge as 1st Mariner Bank, under pressure from regulators, schedules foreclosure auction

March 13, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach and Jay Hancock | Chris Kaltenbach and Jay Hancock,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com and jay.hancock@baltsun.com

Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber is "months" behind in loan payments to 1st Mariner Bank, the bank's chairman and chief executive confirmed yesterday. And with federal regulators pressuring the bank to get its own fiscal house in order, officials there had little choice but to call the loan and schedule a foreclosure auction.

"The guy's in arrears big-time," Ed Hale said. "He hasn't paid for months."

With the likelihood of a mid-April foreclosure auction looming, potential bidders for the Senator, a North Baltimore landmark since 1939, have started to surface.

James "Buzz" Cusack, who runs the Charles theater with his nephew, John Standiford, said he expected to be among the bidders.

Developer David Cordish, while saying he had no plans to bid on the theater, said he would be interested in operating it as a nonprofit.

"The main mission would be to continue as a first-run movie theater," Cordish wrote in an e-mail, adding, "it's extremely important to the community and we would do so as a civic contribution."

Baltimore Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank confirmed yesterday that the city has heard from prospective owners who would be interested in purchasing the Senator and continuing to operate it as a movie theater. He declined to elaborate further.

1st Mariner has been badly hurt by the continuing mortgage crisis, and is being urged by regulators to improve its capital ratios and address nonperforming loans such as the Senator's.

For the fourth quarter of 2008, the bank's parent company, First Mariner Bancorp, reported losses of $9.06 million, or 43 cents a share.

Hale said he is scheduled to meet with regulators today.

"The FDIC and the Federal Reserve are going to come in here," Hale said, "and they're going to want to know, 'What are you doing about this?' We have people to answer to."

The Senator owes 1st Mariner about $900,000, although much of that loan has been guaranteed by Baltimore City. First Mariner could lose between $300,000 and $400,000 if the money is not paid back, Hale said.

1st Mariner had planned a foreclosure of the Senator in February 2007, but the auction was called off after Kiefaber was able to raise nearly $110,000, mostly through contributions from patrons and fans of the theater.

Kiefaber could not be reached for comment last night.

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