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The Dripby Doug Birch11:44 amApr 26, 20120

Senator’s big screen goes dark for renovation

The $3 million effort is expected to take at least six months, add three smaller screens to the big one and install an in-house restaurant.

Above: The landmark Senator Theater’s closes Friday for six months of renovation and expansion

The big screen at the Senator Theater will go dark tomorrow (Friday) for the next six or seven months, the operator says, as work begins on the graceful landmark’s long-planned renovation and expansion.

James “Buzz” Cusack, who struck a deal to lease the Senator two years ago, says the $3 million project will add three new smaller screens in addition to the current single large screen. There are also plans to open a restaurant in the theater and for repairs to the rich decorative detailing of the Art Deco building.

“We expect to start work in a couple of weeks,” Cusack said today, adding he hopes to reopen by the start of the Christmas film season. But he said construction could take longer because of the scope of the planned work.

The Senator Theater's glass front doors

The Senator Theater's glass front doors

The Senator adds a dash of Hollywood glamour to a leafy north residential Baltimore neighborhood with its 40-foot-screen, 900 seats and occasional Hollywood-style movie premiers.

It is regarded as the anchor for the Belvedere Square shopping and entertainment district, which last year lost its Daedalus Bookstore.

The last showing of the current film, “Hunger Games,” is today.

Cusack, owner of the Charles Theater in Station North, said he is confident that an expanded and updated Senator can be a commercial success, despite the long-term growth of home entertainment systems and the more recent rise of movie streaming services.

“It’s a very different thing going to the movies,” he said. “People like to go out and be seen and see other people.”

The theater has seldom attracted large crowds in recent years and Cusack told the Baltimore Business Journal earlier this year that he hoped the refurbished theater would draw between 175,000 and 200,000 people a year.

The Senator's marquee at night

The Senator's marquee at night

The city purchased the mortgage on the financially struggling Senator in 2009, and reached an agreement to lease it to Cusack and his daughter Kathleen the following year.

The state and city have kicked in $1.3 million in loans and incentives for the project.

The renovations are slated to begin as Cusack’s Charles Theater gears up for the 2012 Maryland Film Festival.

The Charles is the primary venue for the festival, which also screens films at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center and The Windup Space on North Avenue.

For upcoming arts and culture events, see The Brew’s new Coming at You page.

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