Former Senator owner repudiates city's strategy for theater

Just days before he was expected to cease operating the Senator Theatre, Tom Kiefaber, the former owner and current operator of the movie house, has ratcheted up his criticism of the city's plans for the North Baltimore landmark.

In a statement released late Friday, he said, "I reject the validity of the entire sordid process." The city plans to have James "Buzz" Cusack, operator of the Charles Theatre, and his daughter, Kathleen, manage the Senator.

When contacted by The Baltimore Sun, Kiefaber declined to discuss whether he accepts the city's authority over the property, including its demand that he leave by this coming Wednesday. "The statement speaks for itself," he said. "There will be additional information coming out."

Kiefaber signed an agreement June 25 allowing him to operate the theater until July 21. It included a clause restricting him from making statements that "defame, disparage or in any way criticize the City, any City employee, Baltimore Development Corporation, or any employee of BDC" during this intermediary period, he said.

But a joint release issued Friday with Friends of the Senator, a volunteer group that helps Kiefaber run the theater, took aim at the BDC (including president M.J. Brodie and Vice President Kimberly Clark), former Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank, Councilman Bill Henry of the 4th District, and Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation. It says they "colluded in duplicitous efforts to acquire site control of the Senator Theatre, and violated ethical boundaries with impunity."

Calls seeking comment from city officials were not returned late Friday.

Kiefaber and the theater group criticized the BDC's "manipulation of The Senator Theatre's acquisition at auction on behalf of the City" and contend that the auction and the subsequent proposal process for redevelopment of the theater were "rife throughout with collusion, fraud, and deceit."

The city acquired the theater last year after Kiefaber, who had struggled for a decade to keep the landmark open, defaulted on a city-backed loan from 1st Mariner Bank.

He said the BDC and its collaborators ignored the advice of historical cinema restoration experts and preordained Cusack's installation at the Senator. He contended that they went so far as to intimidate Towson University from going forward with a proposal to turn the theater into a multi-use auditorium and center for WTMD-FM.

Kiefaber says his antagonists' immediate goal "is to quickly yank me and the FOTS from The Senator, without public accountability and oversight of the flawed, deficient deal they have concocted with a crony."