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.
Kiefaber: We sincerely feel that your representation of your constituents regarding The Senator Theatre and its uncertain future has been abysmal to date. Aligning with the BDC and The Mayor’s Office and overtly shilling for their potentially disastrous, disingenuous approach, rather than responding to community and constituent concerns over this matter, does not reflect your avowed platform and values when you requested our support [for election].
Henry: I was unable to attend Sen. Conway’s meeting due to a prior commitment; perhaps if I’d received more than a few days notice, I could have adjusted my schedule…
[Henry then notes he attended "several prior town hall meetings at the Senator" last year and this year and attended last month’s York Road Partnership general meeting "where this issue was discussed at length among as many if not more members of 'the community' as there are on this distribution list."]
Furthermore, I have returned all phone calls and emails by members of “the community” who had questions or concerns about the situation or my position on it.
In short, Tom, any assertion that I have not met with “the community” is an insult…not to me, but to all of the people I have met with, who for their own reasons were not at one particular meeting called by our state senator. Just because they aren’t members of the Senator Community Trust, doesn’t mean they aren’t the community.
With 15 days to go until the auction, the rift between Kiefaber and his supporters and the city officials seems bigger than ever. What do you make of this? Will the theater be OK in the long run, no matter who prevails?