By Maddie Orton
A leading national entertainment firm that manages the likes of the current Paul McCartney and Cher tours has a new task — managing Jersey City’s historic Loew’s Theatre and local expectations.
“It’s about time that this theater was self-sufficient and brought in its own money,” says Jersey City resident Christopher Desimone.
The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency solicited theater management proposals and their Board voted last night to select AEG Live. Mayor Steven Fulop attributes this to the firm’s national reach and consideration of community programming through local partnerships.
Not everyone shares Fulop’s belief in the new collaborative management team. The Friends of the Loew’s is a non-profit organization consisting of two staff members and an army of volunteers. They saved the theater from demolition in 1993 and have worked over the last 19 years to restore it. The Friends see the pending change in programming as a detriment to the community.
“A commercial arts center presents mostly popular concerts,” says Director of the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre Colin Egan. “Mana Contemporary is an extraordinary company that’s in the professional fine arts business. They’ll bring some programming to the theater, but it’s not going to be a range that meets our community’s needs. As far as NJCU goes, NJCU has been partnering with us already for years.”
For AEG Live though, this is an opportunity to turn around a landmark.
“This is a long-term proposition for AEG Live. We’re committed not only to establishing the Loew’s as a premier theater, but we’re also committed to the vision for Journal Square as a whole,” says Colin Conway, AEG Live’s vice president overseeing venues.
According to Fulop, that commitment does include 30 days for community programming, 20 days for programming by the Friends of the Loew’s and about 50 days for significant music and comedy bookings, and other national acts.
As for the Friends of the Loew’s, “We did our best to include them, they didn’t want to respond to the RFP, which makes it difficult,” says Fulop. “We’re really thankful for what they did, but we think it’s the responsible thing to go through a public process, and if you’re going to put that type of money into something, you really need professionals to run it.”
That money will be an estimated $30 million to $40 million paid by earmarked private dollars, tax credits and public dollars. But some residents are more than willing to make the investment to bring big acts back to the city.
“The Stanley Theatre had the Grateful Dead for a couple of nights, also the dead at Roosevelt stadium were there constantly, we had Janis Joplin over here,” says Jersey City resident Bob Rogall. “I mean, this is rock and roll city!”
The Friends of the Loew’s lost a suit against the city for breach of lease agreement and are working on an appeal. In meantime, the Loew’s will undergo restoration this fall and is set to reopen under new management in late 2015.