The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) has announced that a total of four bids have been received for the restoration and management of the historic Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square. But a pending lawsuit by the group that has operated the landmark theatre and opposes the city’s request for proposals from new operators is scheduled to be heard in Superior Court this week.
The respondents included AEG Live/Mana Fine Arts/NJCU; Ace Theatrical group/ NJPAC/ NJCU; Catch Holdings LLC, and Live Nation/Jones Lang LaSalle.
Live Nation and AEG are the two largest music venue management companies in the world. CE Theatrical Group has been designated by the City of New York to restore the Loew’s Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and is a nationally-renowned theatrical management and development firm.
NJ Performance Arts Center in Newark, Mana Fine Arts in Jersey City, and NJCU in Jersey City have all responded to the community programming component of the request for proposals (RFP.)
“We hope to maintain a relationship with the Friends of the Loew’s so they can continue the community programming they have provided, such as the silent film screenings and local community performances.” – Mayor Steven Fulop.Caption
Each respondent has provided for 20 performance days, as designated by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and the JCRA when they announced the formation of a seven-member RFP Review Committee to analyze the proposals. The committee includes members of the community.
Fulop said renovations to the Jersey City Loew’s will restore its aesthetic and historic appeal while also allowing the maximum operating capacity and acceptable level of safety for all patrons.
The committee will begin to review the proposals this week, then arrange for all qualified respondents to provide an in-person presentation and question-and-answer session. The committee hopes to complete the analysis of all proposals and submit a recommendation to the JCRA board by the end of May.
“We hope to maintain a relationship with the Friends of the Loew’s so they can continue the community programming they have provided, such as the silent film screenings and local community performances,” Fulop said.
The enormous theater opened in 1929, at a time when movies companies would both produce films and construct theaters specifically to show their works. The Loew’s had 3,100 seats and attracted performers including Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Duke Ellington.
Hold on there, FOL says
The Friends of the Loew’s (FOL) is suing the city to halt new management from taking over. FOL currently has the contract for management of the theater.
In a statement arguing against the city’s intentions, FOL said the city purchased the then-closed theater in 1993 intending to “mothball it.” In 1994 the city gave the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation, not the FOL, the responsibility of doing $2 million worth of stabilization work and repairs to keep the building from falling down. Half of this came from a state preservation grant, half from the city.
“But there was no money for the much greater work needed before the Loew’s could open and operate again,” the statement said. “And at the time the city refused to consider providing additional moneys. Instead, the city talked about forming steering committees and blue ribbon panels to fundraise, but never did.”
FOL used its own funds to create a program of volunteer labor that made it possible to start very limited program beginning in 2001, according to the statement.
“But the city had not given FOL any real authority or responsibility. What we did, we did out of dedication to the goal of restoring the Loew’s,” the statement said. “After considering and rejecting the idea of turning the Loew’s over to the redevelopment agency, the [former] city administration and City Council realized that the right course was to formalize and empower the dedication and leadership of the community group that had defined the idea of saving the Loew’s and was already doing so much with so little.”
The FOL says it entered into a lease agreement in 2004 with the purpose of running the Loew’s as a non-profit arts center, a deal that expired in 2009 and was succeeded by a second agreement that expires at the end of 2015. But the mayor has said the city and the FOL no longer have an agreement.
“But that lease was also a plan for moving forward in which the city pledged to find funding to make the absolutely critical code-related repairs that have to happen before FOL or any entity can work with promoters to bring in major acts or even host many more community programs,” the statement said. “The city also pledged to find funding to enable FOL to use the input of nationally recognized arts management experts in planning and implementing expanded operations of the Loew’s.”
FOL says city didn’t live up to its commitment
“For 10 years, the city has not done its part under the plan – leaving FOL holding the bag with a theatre that can’t operate like any other arts center,” the statement said. “If FOL had simply walked away, it might be fair to criticize us. But instead, we created a management structure uniquely suited to the Loew’s serious limitations, and within the last year alone we’ve hosted over 80 events, a broad mix ranging from a major pop concert, to student art shows, to a Volunteer Expo serving non-profits from throughout Hudson County.”
FOL shouldn’t be faulted for the limited program, the statement said, when it was the city that failed to live up to its commitment.
“Contrast what’s happened with the Loew’s with what has recently happened with the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia,” the statement said. “A community group led a campaign to save the Boyd, but was not put in charge of it. Instead, Live Nation was given control. Unfortunately, the Boyd is now being torn down.”
No matter what happens, code-related repairs still need to be made, and the city hasn’t yet found funding to do so – at a time when FOL did manage to get more than $500,000 in funding from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund.
“But Mayor Fulop is refusing to allow this work to start,” the statement said.
The statement said while some or all of the groups that responded to the city’s RFP may be able to play a role in expanding programming, the agreement with FOL should remain in place in order to manage the involvement of the major, for-profit entities like AEG and Live Nation in the Loew’s, while ensuring the non-profit mission of serving the community and region.
“FOL has always said we will work with for-profit promoters, producers, booking agents, etc. That’s how the business works for popular concerts and many other shows,” the statement said. “But a situation where a for-profit is in the lead managing the Loew’s is not advisable. For profit and non-profit theatre managements have starkly different imperatives. Ultimately, for-profits have the imperative to ensure income for their owners and investors, and this has an unavoidable impact on programming decisions. The imperative to make money obviously becomes even greater if the for-profit has taken on debt in one form or another to fund major renovations.”
In other venues, non-profits over see and work with for profit entities to provide programming, and this is the best option for the Loew’s, the statement said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.