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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.

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8 comments

  1. Mr. Henry was at Zen West the night of State Senator Conway’s meeting. This restaurant is less than a block away from the Senator Theatre, so his excuse of a busy schedule doesn’t ring true.

    Mr. Henry refuses to acknowledge that it was necessary to show up and talk at Senator Conway’s meeting–saying the same thing to everyone at the same time, in front of Mr. Kiefaber, going on the record.

  2. To accuse Mr. Kiefaber of character assassination now, when the BDC and Mr. Henry have been making all kinds of accusations about him to the press for years and he has been unable to get a fair hearing in the media, is absurd. What Kim Clark, Andy Frank, Bill Henry and others have done to try to destroy Kiefaber’s credibility is true character assassination, but they’ve never been called on it once.

    And the city has not put a dime into keeping the theatre operating in the past 10 years. Their loan guarantee did nothing of the sort, and in fact has been the method they’ve used to get control of the outcome for the theatre now, with the result that the theatre is going to a public auction where anything can happen.

    I also don’t believe that it’s true that the city has the right to be more selective about bidders. Anyone who can pay the $1 million asking price will get the theatre at auction. The city has the conflicting interests of being legally obligated, as the holder of the note, to maximize the auction price and to do what’s best for the community. Those two obligations may be at odds.

  3. I just have to comment again here, because I truly can’t believe the ridiculousness of accusing Tom Kiefaber of character assassination after all that city officials have done to assassinate his character. All Tom is doing is pointing out that Bill Henry has been less than transparent in terms of answering questions from the public, which is absolutely true from my perspective as one of his constituents in the 4th district.

    And you want to talk about character assassination? Maybe it’s time for me to go there publicly and talk about the meeting I had in February with Bill Henry when I first expressed concern to him about The Senator. Bill sat down with me and engaged in character assassination of Tom Kiefaber for at least a good half hour. Bill made Tom out to be basically almost like some kind of monster, which didn’t jibe at all with my impression of Tom. Bill’s assertions in that meeting were so over the top transparently malicious that after the meeting, I firmly decided whose side I was on. Go team Tom!

  4. Character assassination? Well, pardon the pun, but this is simply…assassinine.
    I know things about Mr. Henry’s honesty, integrity, conflicts of interest that the genreal public has not been told. His actions regarding this matter are motivated by his wanting to stay in the political circus.
    I’ve had personal experience with regard to sitting in on roundtable meetings with Mr. Henry, his friends from a “development company” and others.
    I’ve had conversations with a number of my neighbors in the district he claims to represent.
    Why does Mr. Henry seem to tell a different tale to each of us?
    I’ve personally “caught” him in several blatant lies……
    The media even stated that Mr. Henry misinformed them on information regarding what was currently happening at The Senator.
    One of the folks Bill Henry is working closely with is Kim Clark from the Baltimore Development Corporation. He met with her and other city officials immediately following Senator Conway’s meeting at the theatre.
    Simple math. What does this tell you. He told at least three different stories as to why he was unable to attend that meeting, yet was waiting for Kim and otehrs a block away at a bar?
    Remember Liz, it was at this particular meeting that Kim Clarke stated pulicy that YOU greatly misquoted her on a previous article you’d written. Then went on to say that she no longer speaks to you.
    You told Tom K that Kim Clark went on for quite a while, making some pretty nasty and personal comments about Tom K.
    Please don’t become one of the pod people…..

  5. I’ve attended every public meeting at the theatre since the town hall meeting in December.

    I only recall the councilman actually attending ONE. March 16, held by the SCT.

    At the Press Conference of January 22, I observed him in the concession area BEFORE the event, yet could not locate him during said event. Did he leave?

    I find it odd that a city official, invited to a meeting called by a State Senator states that he can’t adjust his schedule with only “a few days notice”? What was so important that it could not be rescheduled? An audience with the governor?

    While the councilman states that the York Road Partnership (YRP) represents more people than have attended all of The Senator meetings combined, I challenge him to produce records to verify it.

    The YRP may state they represent a large number of individuals in the area, I hear that the number that actually *participate* & on the YRP email distribution is relatively small (100, maybe?).

    Like I said, I’ve been to the meetings – there have been far more than 100 show.

    Beyond that YRP only represents a portion of your constituents.
    Are you playing favorites? I’ve learned that your response email ‘An Open Letter Back to Tom’ was not sent to the Belvedere Improvement Association, Govanstowne Business Association nor the Homewood Community… Why is that?

  6. The Senator died some time ago. Let’s let it go and find a new, innovative use for the darn thing. Kiefaber is a known whiner and poor manager. I don’t care if the local councilman has or has not been to every meeting of this protracted period of anninut. The public voted on this death by not paying for the price of sitting in those out-of-date and very uncomfortable seats or tolerating Kiefaber’s constant appeals (before so many of his shows) for hard cash to pay his bills. If he didn’t have a plan of how he was going to make it, and took on the loans — well, the problems land at his feet. Only Keifaber is responsible for The Senator’s demise. Throwing dirt on others does not cover up his responsiblity; his poor financial management. Keep the building, find a new and profitable use for it. Let Keifaber find another business to mangle.

  7. Liz Farmer, Business Writer

    Update: Tom Kiefaber’s response to Councilman Henry’s request for access to the Senator listerv was posted on AstroGirl’s blog (http://astrogirlguides.blogspot.com/).

    Here’s an excerpt from Kiefaber’s letter:

    “The historic theatre’s marquee is one of the few active channels with the public we have left as The Senator is headed to a little known, barely understood and potentially disastrous city public auction in two weeks time. It’s an alarming situation that has apparently sent you and your associates to ground and it appears that you’re simply dodging the crucial issues and running out the clock, while demanding that the critical marquee message be removed immediately.

    “Beyond the marquee, The Senator’s extensive e-mail list serve is our most effective method to disseminate information and communicate laterally to a large recipient base nationwide. You and your colleagues at the city and the BDC are not hindered in this way and you have readily utilized the local media in ways that have served to undermine my credibility and confuse the public, but have unfortunately not defused a needlessly explosive situation at The Senator Theatre.”

  8. All drama aside, the reality at this point is the neighborhood will be better off when Bill Henry is no longer its Councilman and the Senator will be better off under someone other than Tom. No offense to either man, but the results of both of their professional efforts speak for themselves. These are challenging times for all businesses and communities, and this particular corner of the City is in desperate need of intelligent leaders with vision and follow-through. Tom and Bill have both had their chance, and neither has proven himself. It’s someone else’s turn to try.

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