By Maddie Orton
A battle that’s been simmering between Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and the non-profit organization that manages Journal Square’s historic Loew’s Theatre has come to a head. The Friends of the Loew’s filed suit against the city today. The Friends say the city’s plan to get a private company to manage the theater violates the group’s lease.
“For-profit entities, by definition, have other concerns than non-profit community organizations,” says Colin Egan, executive director of the Friends of the Loew’s. “And yes, we worry about the programming and the continued restoration of the building.”
Egan says the lease was renewed in 2009 and runs through 2015. Mayor Fulop was not surprised by news of the lawsuit, saying, “It’s desperation. We’ve tried or best to work with them. The council never voted on [a lease renewal], no paperwork was filed with the clerk.”
“We’re committed to restoring the Loew’s,” says Fulop. “There’s an RFP out and we’ve solicited both not-for-profit and for-profit vendors to see what we get. We need to make sure we have the best provider to ensure success.”
The Friends of the Loew’s, a non-profit organization created to save the now 85-year-old building from destruction in 1987, restored the theater to its current semi-operational state, allowing it to re-open in 2001. They work with a booking agency to manage the theater.
“Friends of the Loew’s would be limited, we think, to 20 events a year,” says Egan. “And the problem is, we’re not in the business of just doing events. Our mission is the preservation, restoration, operation of this theater as an arts center.”
The initial investment would cost an estimated $10 million to $20 million, but the possible return on investment could be what all parties are looking for — a revitalized Journal Square. While everyone can agree on the goal, the best way to achieve it is at the heart of this debate.
“When you bring in more professional management, they have the opportunity to create more diverse programming, national acts coming to Jersey City, really creating Jersey City as a destination to come to,” says Fulop. “Today, the number of events throughout the year, or you look at the variety of events, it is really under-performing.”
“They’re going to bring outside interests in. If they’re going to put up the money to remodel the theater, however I want to see the people who have been involved for 20 years, stay here and run it,” says Jersey City Councilman Richard Boggiano. “I don’t want to see outside interests from New York coming in here and dictating to us in the Journal Square area.”
The city has offered the Friends of the Loew’s the opportunity to submit a proposal either alone or with a complementary organization, or to participate in selecting the company that will manage the theater moving forward. For the Friends though, the chance to operate the venue with financial resources, an opportunity they feel was promised a decade ago, is what they’re after.