Senator proposals floated

Theater could stay open while new owner sought

March 21, 2009|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

The Senator Theatre, which shut its doors Sunday and faces foreclosure next month, would continue operating as a movie theater and arts venue, but not as a first-run movie house, under a plan outlined by owner Tom Kiefaber on the theater's Web site.

The "Reorganization and Transitional Operations Plan" calls for the theater to continue operating as Kiefaber seeks a private investor or a nonprofit group willing to purchase the theater and keep it running.

Under either scenario, Kiefaber would no longer own and operate the theater that has been in his family for seven decades. The proposals outlined in the letter would allow the theater to continue operating while a new owner is sought. The money raised would be used to pay expenses, including legal fees.

The plan is the latest in community efforts to prevent the 70-year-old North Baltimore landmark from going on the auction block.

This week, Kiefaber said that he is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. If that happens, the foreclosure auction, tentatively scheduled for next month, would be called off, with the theater's finances put under court control.

In addition, the recently formed Senator Community Trust has initiated efforts to raise the $70,000 necessary to bring the theater's mortgage current and halt foreclosure proceedings.

Many of the proposals included in the plan have been discussed at public forums held at the Senator in recent months. They include concerts, screenings of classic and off-run films, simulcasts, corporate rentals and educational programs for schoolchildren. The plan also envisions such groups as a Senator Jazz Society, Senator Film Society and Senator Soul and R&B Club, with money raised through membership fees.

In another Senator development, a potential buyer who sits on a city board considering landmark status for the building's interior has said he will recuse himself from any discussion of the theater's fate.

James "Buzz" Cusack, who operates the five-screen Charles Theatre, said he will not participate in any debate over the landmark status proposal made by the city's Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation.

This week, Kiefaber said the board's proposal to place the Senator's interior on a list of protected properties, which would restrict changes a new owner could make, threatened to decrease the building's value and scare off potential investors.

CHAP Executive Director Kathleen Kotarba defended the proposal as an attempt "to preserve this extraordinary public interior for the future. ... It's the best example of an art deco interior in Baltimore, and there's been very little change," she said.

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