By Maddie Orton
A 2004 lease agreement for the historic Landmark Loew’s Theatre is valid — that’s according to the Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez. But, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop disagrees.
“We would say that the law is pretty clear,” Fulop says. “That any leases have to go in front of a city council for approval, and that never happened.”
Jersey City owns the 1920s movie palace-turned venue, and has leased the building to the non-profit Friends of the Loew’s for $1 a year over the last decade. Last year, over concerns that the 3,000-seat venue was being under-utilized and not diversely programmed, Mayor Fulop put out a request for proposals to find a for-profit or non-profit entity to take over the role of managing the theater.
Fulop said he offered the Friends of the Loew’s a seat at the table to help decide what company will take over management or to submit a proposal themselves. The group was the force behind preventing the theater’s demolition in the late ’80s. But to them, the concern wasn’t about having a say. It was about a breach of lease agreement — and a for-profit entity stepping in.
“We worry about the programming and the continued restoration of the building,” Friends of the Loew’s Executive Director Colin Egan said of the request for proposals in 2014.
Friends of the Loew’s sued the city. The group’s suit was thrown out though, and Jersey City selected major theatrical management company AEG Live, in collaboration with community partners, to take over managing the space. All systems were go. That is until Friday, back in court, when Judge Velasquez ruled in favor of the Friends of the Loew’s appeal.
“Well we were very happy and gratified that what we feel was a cloud over the theater’s future is removed and hopefully we can get on with working with the city to move the theater forward,” says Egan.
Egan says the lease had continued through “an option to renew,” rather than an “extension.” He says that means it did not require a council vote and therefore, they will continue in their management role as lease-holders.
According to Fulop, the city plans to appeal. And both he and Egan say it’s unfortunate that the already lengthy legal process will continue.
“In the meantime, they have the advantage in this situation,” says Fulop. “The hope is that they recognize that … we’re coming from a position of being reasonable and sharing their perspective… Everything that they say is their mission statement, we’ve said we would do.”
Egan says it’s not so much a matter of what the city will do, but how they’ll do it.
“The major concerts are where the money is going to be made, and we have to figure out how and how much revenue from those shows will help the community programming/the affordable programming,” says Egan.
He also has concerns about how space, equipment and show dates will be shared.
“Obviously there’s a great imperative for commercial programs to have the best nights: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays. We understand that,” Egan explains. “But, frankly, if you’re going to showcase local arts, you need access to some of those nights too.”
Fulop says AEG Live has been notified that project isn’t moving forward at the moment. Funds raised for the AEG Live transition and theater revitalization will be reallocated to other, more timely projects. The city will continue honoring the $1 a year lease.
“We don’t want to be punitive, so that’s not the goal here,” Fulop explains. “We’re thinking about being what’s best for all the taxpayers of Jersey City and not just a small group.”
It highlights another unresolved piece of the puzzle though. The theater, while usable, still remains in a state of disrepair.
Egan says the 2004 lease agreement also included measures for the city to make best efforts to bring the building up to code and to hire a consultant. He says neither of these things came to fruition. Friends of the Loew’s has hired its own consultant and hopes to sit down with her and the mayor to talk things through.