Four submit bids to take over the Senator

At least two would continue showing movies at venerable York Road theater

November 21, 2009|By Michael Sragow and Chris Kaltenbach

Charles Theatre owner James "Buzz" Cusack, Towson University's WTMD-FM radio station and developer David Cordish are among the four parties who answered the city's call for proposals to lease or own the Senator Theatre.

This action is the latest chapter in the saga of survival for the financially troubled North Baltimore landmark and nationally honored movie house.

A review panel will study the proposals and submit its findings to the Project Review and Oversight Committee of the Baltimore Development Corp., which is administering the process. The committee will forward its review to the full BDC, which will then make a recommendation to the mayor. The names of all four bidders will be made public Monday.

Kim Clark, executive vice president of the BDC, said Friday that there would be a public presentation of the proposals, probably at the Senator.

How quickly that would happen, she said, "depends upon the quality of the proposals. If every single one has all the information we need to do our analysis and present it to the review panel, then it will move quickly." The intent of the BDC, said Clark, is to ensure proposals are viable before presenting them to the public.

"The worst case would be if the public falls in love with one of them, and that one is not financially viable," she said. "In my mind, that would be horrible."

Cordish, who has repeatedly said he "would run the theater as a public service or a trust," confirmed that he filed a proposal, but did not provide any details.

Cusack, whose five-screen Charles Theatre helps anchor the Station North Arts District the way the Senator does Govanstowne and Belvedere Square, said Friday, "I hope we get the project; I think it will be great." He would keep the Senator as a single-screen movie theater. But he would also add a restaurant on its north side, "probably a tapas thing," and a crepes shop on its south side. That plan has worked for Cusack at the Charles.

Cusack has had preliminary discussions with the owners of Sofi's Crepes and Tapas Teatro about opening new venues at the Senator similar to the ones they have that flank the Charles.

"I'm also talking to a children's-services provider," Cusack said, "about using the auditorium for children's activities from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., when the theater is closed." According to Cusack, a triangular area in the southern part of the property contains enough space for another screen. The cost of building and operating it would require a partner who would use that space for other purposes, such as art education.

Stephen T. Yasko, general manager of WTMD-FM, told The Baltmore Sun in March that he would like to move WTMD's studios into the Senator and create an environment akin to Philadelphia's World Café, which includes a restaurant and two performance spaces as well as radio facilities.

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