Let the Senator finally fade away

Back in February of 2007, the Senator Theatre survived a foreclosure threat only after community donations and a bridge loan allowed owner Tom Kiefaber to pay off his $109,828.64 debt to 1st Mariner Bank. That was the theater’s third near-death experience in the last 15 years, according to Liz Farmer.

A story in Friday’s edition of the Baltimore Sun describes a Thursday night meeting to discuss turning the Senator into a nonprofit venture (seems it already was one, and that’s the problem). This is Kiefaber’s latest idea to keep the doors open.

The 200-or-so attendees reminisced about “personal stories of first dates and kisses at the theater” and spit-balled ideas on what new purposes the building could serve in its extended life.

From the Sun story:

“There is something extraordinary about this place,” Kiefaber said. “There is an incredible energy in this theatre.”

No, clearly there isn’t. The free market has spoken — the Senator is dead.

I understand people have memories attached to the place, but all their praise and all their memories haven’t translated into the dollars needed to keep the theater running these past few years. So now it needs yet another bailout. Seems there’s a lot of that going around in this economy.

The market doesn’t want the Senator. It doesn’t care how many single-screen theaters are left in the U.S. It only cares about businesses that can sustain themselves — not those that can only tug on heartstrings every couple of years in order to eke out a little more time on the ventilator.

And if this latest plan does work — if the Senator ultimately does become some “multipurpose entertainment and education venue” — that means it won’t be what all these people remember. All that work, and what we know as “The Senator Theatre” will still be gone.

I propose we let it go for now. Maybe one day a new owner can come along and make it into what it once was — and fund it with ticket prices, not through pleas in a newspaper. The building’s only a shell, and closing its doors won’t mean the memories will vanish.

Give it some dignity. And stop spending money to slow its inevitable demise. There are a lot more important issues to deal with right now.

JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist

Save the Senator Theatre?

At Thursday night’s meeting about the Senator Theatre’s transformation into a nonprofit venture, reports from attendees said the mood was emotional and supportive. Owner Tom Kiefaber said he was touched by the stories some people told about the role the theater has played in their lives and about 200 people showed up to listen or provide suggestions about how the venue should expand its horizons.

According to a story in Friday’s Baltimore Sun, attendees proposed ideas ranging from a place where children can use the stage for performances to a musical venue.

The theater’s ties to the community are already strong — it was only through public support and rallying that the financially troubled venue was able to avoid foreclosure three times in the last 15 years — and the 69-year-old Art Deco landmark is one of the last, single-screen theaters of its kind still in operation in America.

Because of — or perhaps in spite of — its history of leaning on community support do you think the Senator has a chance to survive and maybe even flourish under a new business model? How else should the theater expand its repertoire to beyond just showing movies?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

There’s nowhere like Boise during the holidays

Why would you want to take a winter vacation in crummy old Pasadena or stale old Miami when you could whisk away to Boise, Idaho for the weekend?

It sounds crazy, but that’s the tone (part tongue-and-cheek, part serious) of an e-mail I received this week promoting Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl, which pits the University of Maryland against the University of Nevada on Dec. 30.

It seems Idaho at the end of December is not first on a lot of people’s travel lists, something that the bowl committee is keenly aware of this year with the economy forcing many to be choosier about their expenses. According some media reports, Maryland has sold less than 30 tickets to the game and Nevada has sold even less, although a spokesman for Maryland’s athletics department said those numbers were not accurate.

Seeking to counteract the apparent lack of travel interest to the game (which will be televised on ESPN) the bowl’s promoters say there’s plenty of winter fun to be had in Idaho, from snowmobiling to tubing to seeing the Rocky Mountains.

It also notes that “many” athletes in Maryland’s Atlantic Coast Conference who come to the bowl each year get to experience snow for the first time. (I’m assuming they are talking about kids who play at the three ACC schools in Florida and Georgia.)
It even quotes an unnamed “veteran ACC bowl game attendee” saying after his first Humanitarian Bowl trip, “The whole town is awesome. My expectations weren’t that high. But this is the best bowl trip ever.”
I don’t know about you but my journalistic instincts have taught me not to trust any endorsement when I don’t know where it’s coming from.
I applaud the effort that implores fans to think “outside the icebox” but really — would anything short of free plane tickets get more Maryland folks to travel to the game?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

Tiny houses next to big buildings

A few weeks ago I was in Philadelphia for my niece’s birthday party, and as we happened to be downtown, and as I happen to be a bit of a building nerd, I walked with my cousin over to see the brand new, 975-foot-tall Comcast Center, which when it opened in June became the tallest building in Pennsylvania (and about 400 feet taller than anything we’ve got here in Baltimore).

It was a cool building, designed by the superstar architect Robert A.M. Stern (he’s supposedly the designer for 10 Inner Harbor, ArcWheeler’s non-starter of an office tower, supposedly to be built on the site of an old McCormick factory downtown) although critics say it looks like the world’s biggest USB flash drive.

I was struck, however, by the sight of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church’s rectory, which is attached to the skyscraper’s lobby on the North side of the building. As you can see from the photo, it blends in reasonably well — I love it when I see examples of new, highly modern architecture integrated with old, beautiful structures.

It reminded me immediately of Darlene Dixon’s West Baltimore row house, which she refused to move out of in order to accommodate the construction of the UMB Biopark on Martin Luther King Boulevard. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a really funny sight, and worth the trip to take a look.

Can anyone think of any other examples of this — big institutional or commercial buildings that have tiny houses or other residential properties as neighbors, coexisting peacefully in the urban environment?

ROBBIE WHELAN, Business Writer

Baltimore graffiti artists rise against Treasury Department

impeach-1.jpgPark Avenue on downtown Baltimore’s west side is an odd little street, what with its desolate-looking Chinese restaurants, “Chinese Free Masons Lodge” and assorted vagrants congregating around dusk.

I know it well, because I walk it most days from my parking lot to the Daily Record’s offices, but the other day, near the corner of Park and Mulberry, this caught my eye…

Graffiti is not out of place in this part of the city, but graffiti with high crimes and misdemeanors charges leveled against Treasury Department appointees sure is.

And it’s quite artful, too!

ROBBIE WHELAN, Business Writer

This holiday season, it’s about the bare necessities

A couple weeks ago I e-mailed my sister to ask her what she wanted for Christmas — almost immediately the response came back: “a gift certificate to Trader Joe’s.”

No, my sister is not a “foodie” nor is she boringly practical — she has just joined the growing number of people who agree that putting food on the table (in the figurative sense) is the hot ticket item this holiday season.

According to a Utah newspaper, the Harmons grocery store chain said there had a 68 percent increase in gift card sales from Nov. 1 through Dec. 10 of this year compared with the same period the year before. The number is representative of shoppers this year preferring to give gift cards for essentials such as gas or food, the article states.

One call to the Giant Food spokesman and I found out the same thing is happing here in Maryland. While Jamie Miller said he couldn’t give specific numbers for the Landover-based grocery store chain, he said that Giant gift card sales have seen a moderate increase “in the range of ten percent” from last year’s sales.

Miller attributed the increase to the popularity of practical gifts this year as well as better marketing efforts by Giant to sell the cards. He also noted Giant offers a discount to nonprofits on gift card purchases.

In addition, the gift cards to other retail outlets such as restaurants, Web sites, or clothing stores that Giant sells have also seen an uptick. Again, Miller was not specific but he did say those sales have seen a larger increase than Giant’s gift cards.

I guess a shiny new bauble is starting to look like a pretty frivolous present for most people this year when it’s becoming tougher to put food on the table or pay a mortgage.

How has the economy affected your gift-shopping this season?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

‘Outlook: Not So Good’ for finance industry

Looks like people within the finance industry are expecting the light at the end of the tunnel to be a long way off.

The Bethesda-based Association for Financial Professionals released its 2009 outlook survey today, and the view’s pretty bleak.

Here are some highlights (er, ‘lowlights’):

  • 5 out of 6 financial professionals do not expect business to improve in 2009
  • 49% expect their organizations to decrease the number of workers they employ over the next year
  • 63% believe it will not be until at least mid-year 2009 before the credit markets begin to recover
  • 79% of organizations expect to take additional “defensive actions” to conserve cash if short-term credit conditions not improve by mid-year

You can download the full survey from AFP here. (PDF)


Still reeling from Steelers v. Ravens?

A little walk down memory lane might be just what the doctor ordered.

Dec. 28 marks the 50th anniversary of “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the Baltimore Colts’ victory over the New York Giants en route to their first NFL championship, and a game that is credited with boosting the league’s popularity.

Half a century ago it was running back Alan Ameche scoring from one yard out to give the Colts a 23-17 win in the first overtime game ever played — instead of last Sunday’s Santonio Holmes goal line catch that was good for a touchdown by the nose of the ball…or by the poor angle of the replay camera.

In honor of the game, the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards will be charging a special flat admission rate of $5.80 from Dec. 20 through Jan. 4 and debuting an exhibit dedicated to that championship game on Dec. 23.

Many of you reading this blog are probably too young to remember the game when it was first played but if you come from a true Baltimore sports family, you’ve probably been schooled on its significance by an older relative and watch it every time it re-airs on ESPN Classic.

Even though you may not remember it, what does this game mean to you as a Ravens fan? Is it important to remember our past?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer 

Yeah, we know about shoe-politics

Yesterday’s news that an Iraqi journalist took off both of his shoes and hurled them at President Bush after a press conference in Baghdad falls upon Baltimore ears with striking familiarity – around here, we know that shoes are a great prop for making a political statement.

Think back to 1991, for example, when now-Mayor, but then newly-elected city councilwoman Sheila Dixon waved a shoe at her white council colleagues and declared, “You’ve been running things for the past 20 years. Now the shoe is on the other foot.” Then, last year, after a State Prosecutor’s office investigation detailed shopping trips and expensive footwear that the Mayor allegedly accepted from a prominent and well-connected real estate developer, everyone in town was wondering if the “other foot” shoe was a $600 Jimmy Choo sandal.

Now in Iraq, shoe-ing someone is a sign of intense disrespect, so it’s a little different, but I dare say this is the best political incident related to feet since 1960, when a furious Russian premier Nikita Kruschev told Western delegates to the U.N. General Assembly, “We will crush you,” and pounded the podium.

In his hand? You guessed it. His own shoe.

ROBBIE WHELAN, Business Writer

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