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Drama from former Senator Theatre owner

Baltimore Sun reporter

From the Maryland Politics blog:

Meetings of the city's spending board are generally sleepy bureaucratic pageants, punctuated by the occasional protest from contractors or sopping arrival of officials caught in the rain.

But Tom Kiefaber, who ran the Senator Theater until just a few weeks ago, brought a level of drama worthy of a summer blockbuster to today's meeting.

Kiefaber accused the Baltimore Development Company of being "deceitful and fraudulent" in the manner in which they awarded the contract for the theater to James "Buzz" and Kathleen Cusack, the father-and-daughter team behind the Charles Theatre.

He interupted assistant city solicitor Larry Jenkins, prompting Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young to rap his gavel and call for order.

"This is out of order," Kiefaber yelled. "This is a fraud coming down here."

After Kiefaber stormed to the back of the chamber, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, "I'm very much looking forward to new leadership at the Senator Theatre."

She praised the Cusacks' role in the renaissance of Station North and said she anticipated a "viable theater" would add to the revitalized Belvedere Square area.

"Shame on you. Shame on all of you," Kiefaber yelled from the back of the room as the five-member board voted on the agreement. City Comptroller Joan Pratt abstained from the vote.

Four teams, including Towson University's WTMD radio station, responded to a request for proposals last fall and city officials decided the Cusacks were best-prepared to run the theater.

The city is offering the Cusacks a pretty sweet deal-- $1 annual rent for the first 40 years and a $700,000 loan to aid with construction. The Cusacks are fronting $400,000 and applying for $550,000 federal and state tax credits and grants.

The family plans a $1.65 million renovation of the 71-year-old theater that includes building two small restaurants and possibly constructing a second screen.

Kiefaber's story is quite compelling. His grandfather opened the theater and it stayed in the family until the bank seized it last year after he was unable to make mortgage payments.

The city bought the mortgage, and after an auction failed to produce a buyer, took control of the theater last summer.

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