Senator Theatre/Baltimore, MD

Baltimore Business Journal
Friday March 19, 2010

BDC’s Brodie defends Senator plan
By Daniel J. Sernovitz

The historic Senator Theatre in Northeast Baltimore will be preserved regardless of the group selected to acquire and renovate the structure, according to the city’s top economic development official.

Baltimore Development Corp. President M.J. “Jay” Brodie, in a letter he provided to the Baltimore Business Journal, said he is confident in the city’s ability to “ensure the long-term protection of this historic gem.”

The BDC’s efforts have come under fire by a group calling itself the Friends of the Senator , which has launched a letter-writing campaign to ensure the building’s unique historic characteristics are preserved if the city sells the building.

An advisory panel assembled by the BDC is weighing proposals from two groups to buy and renovate the moviehouse, one of the city’s last remaining single-screen theaters.

Members of the Friends group have sent more than 100 letters to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake accusing the BDC of mismanagement by not seeking out an historic preservationist familiar with preserving older movie theaters to help with the selection process.

Brodie, responding to one of those letter writers, defended his agency’s actions and said the BDC has not conducted its evaluation process “under an inappropriate shroud of secrecy and intrigue.” The agency has tried to seek as much public feedback as possible throughout the process, Brodie wrote, including on the initial solicitation the BDC issued in seeking prospective buyers.

Brodie said the BDC has sought advice from a local contractor familiar with historical renovations and the executive director of the Tampa Theatre in Florida. In addition, the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has control over any exterior or internal renovations made to the building. What’s more, he said, each of the building’s prospective buyers have said they plan to seek historic tax credits to help finance their renovations, and the conditions tied with those tax credits would impose additional restrictions on the building’s future alterations.

The Senator’s last owner had defaulted on a loan from First Mariner Bancorp, which planned to foreclose and sell the property at an auction last spring. The city, which guaranteed a portion of the loan, stepped in to buy the debt from First Mariner and purchased the structure itself in December for $810,000.

In September, the BDC offered the property up to potential buyers and the economic development agency received four bids for the 17,868-square-foot Govanstown building. An advisory panel selected two as finalists, one by Charles Theatre owners James “Buzz” Cusack Jr. and Kathleen C. Cusack, and another by Towson University’s WTMD public radio station.

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