The 4 Senator bidders would still show movies

November 24, 2009|By Michael Sragow | michael.sragow@baltsun.com

The Baltimore Development Corp. yesterday provided more details about four proposals for the future of the Senator Theatre. The plans for the troubled North Baltimore landmark include loft-style apartments, a stage for puppet shows, a college-run arts center and even a single-screen movie theater.

The city took possession of the 70-year-old theater in July after a foreclosure auction and is now looking for a group to own or operate the movie house.

JR Owens, president of the JR Owens Corp., said yesterday that his dual aim in proposing "The Lofts at the Senator Theatre" was bringing new people into the Senator's neighborhood with 24 rental apartments as well as "stopping the decay" of area business by keeping the Senator a first-run movie theater "and a No. 1 drawing card to that area."

Owens, whose company manages dozens of rental properties in Mount Vernon, said his design would maintain the facade, the front entrance, and the interior of the theater - "I don't want to change any of that" - while constructing apartments in the rear of the building with parking spaces underneath.

Owens, a native Baltimorean, said "I grew up living up the street from the Senator. ... Destroying the theater or not using it as a theater would be negative to the community."

He compares the impact of the closing of the Senator to the loss of the Waverly and Boulevard theaters in the Waverly neighborhood. "The Boulevard was even more attractive than the Senator and it's nothing now. That's a disgrace."

Stephen Yasko, general manager of Towson University's WTMD-FM public radio station, said Monday that "WTMD at the Senator" would turn the Senator into "a multiuse film and concert theater that would also house the station's studio and offices. Film retrospectives, gala premieres and themed movie festivals would be showcased in the same place as musical artists" that appear on WTMD, along with children's programs and fundraisers for community groups.

A WTMD-run Senator would also have the multimedia creations of students in Towson's Electronic Media and Film Department and College of Fine Arts, an attraction, Yasko says, that would bring their "exciting" work to a larger audience and provide "a much more 'real-world' experience for talented kids." The combination of the radio station's operations with the multifaceted performance and screening schedule would "keep the Senator alive all day, every day," Yasko says.

Enoch Cook III, who teaches theater management at Coppin State, has proposed renting the Senator and to program and operate the theater as a mixture of variety stage and revival and art/independent film house.

Although his proposal is listed as "The Theatre Project PUPKIDS, Inc.," and specifies "a staged Vaudeville Revue to attract interest in puppetry and puppeteers," Cook aims to open his doors to all manner of live performances, reflecting his own background as a theater manager for Baltimore's Arena Players and an equestrian clown.

James "Buzz" Cusack, who owns the five-screen Charles Theatre in the Station North Arts District, said Friday that his plan would keep the Senator as a single-screen movie theater and he would also add a restaurant and crepes shop similar to those that flank the Charles. Cusack consulted on his plan with Alex Castro, the architect who collaborated on the Charles' renovation as well as the building design for the American Visionary Art Museum.

Developer David Cordish, who told The Baltimore Sun in an e-mail on Friday that he had submitted a proposal, was not on the list of four plans announced on Monday.

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