Emotions heating up at North Baltimore’s Senator Theatre
An e-mail exchange posted on the Friends of the Senator Theatre blog site caught my attention this morning. On Monday, theater owner Tom Kiefaber wrote an open letter to Councilman Bill Henry and posted it on the site as well. Tuesday, Henry wrote back and his response follows Kiefaber's letter on the site. Going on seven months into my coverage of the theater, this exchange seems to get at the heart of the differing points of view here. Kiefaber, whose family built the theater in 1939, has been unable to keep it profitable for any real length of time since he took over operation in 1989. He strongly feels this is not because of his management but because he went into debt keeping it running while the rest of Belevedere Square remained relatively desolate. Kiefaber has also told me on several occasions he believes the city left the Senator dangling when it invested millions in revitalizing Belvedere Square and he thinks it was unfair that none of that money was allocated for the theater. On the other hand, the city and state have given at least than $500,000 in loans, and Baltimore backed $600,000 of the the Senator's $950,000 loan from First Mariner Bank. And when the bank issued a foreclosure notice to Kiefaber after he was in default for five months, city officials moved to buy the deed so the theater wouldn't be subject to a bank auction in which pretty much anyone can bid on the building. (At this month's auction, the city has the right to be more selective about the winning bidder.) I'll also point out here that being a beloved city institution doesn't guarantee salvation, as was the case with the Baltimore Opera Company when it filed for bankruptcy this year. Kiefaber has also singled out Councilman Henry (who represents the district the theater is in) as being unwilling to help or listen to theater supporters. As such, Kiefaber has posted the following on the theater's marquee: "Councilman Henry won't meet with the community about the auction." It seems in the 11th hour, we're turning to character assassination. I suggest you read both letters but here are some excerpts.