Jersey City & Friends of Loew’s come to terms on theatre renovation, new management plan

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The City of Jersey City and the Friends of Loew’s have come to terms on how to renovate the historic Journal Square theatre and find new management, with a request for proposals set to be issued by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency in short order for a six-week time frame.

At press conference inside the theatre this afternoon, officials announced that the city is accepting proposals for the redevelopment, operation and management of the Loew’s, in fusion with FOL.

The goal is to not only satisfy the objectives of the theatre’s Redevelopment Plan, but also align with the administration’s overall commitment to stimulating reinvestment in the city. 

“The pandemic is not going to slow the city down, and after 6 years of stalled progress and litigation we are excited to finally have a positive plan in conjunction with FOL. We will now restore the theatre and find a partner that can bring world class talent on a regular basis to Jersey City,” Mayor Steven Fulop said.

“This is a significant step for Journal Square and the entire city.”

During the question and answer session with the media, Fulop said he expected the renovation to take two years and that the city council would vote on a vender following approval from the JCRA.

The renovation is projected to cost nearly $40 million, with the city incorporating alternative financing such as historic tax credits, contributions from local developers, along with other financing sources.

While the Loew’s Jersey is in operable condition and is currently open in a limited capacity, it does require additional restoration and renovation to allow for full occupancy, improvement and modernization of production capabilities to expand the number and scale of productions, and increased patron comfort.

Ultimately, the city’s vision is to expand the operation of the Loew’s as a cultural and entertainment venue in which major commercial programming is presented regularly, while maintaining and growing the diverse additional affordable programming.

Concepts mentioned during the press briefing included local arts, theatrical, dance, multi-cultural, educational, film, comedy shows, and community-related shows, events, and activities.

The RFP seeks to find a commercial promoter and venue operator to partner in programming the Loew’s and bring a regular schedule of major national and international acts that will add to the diverse arts, community, and film shows already presented by FOL.

Colin Egan, a founder of Friends of the Loew’s, established in 1987 to preserve and reopen the Loew’s, and as its director he has been in charge of FOL’s programming since.

“I think we can create a practical partnership between FOL as a dynamic, community-based arts organization, and a major commercial promoter/venue operator so we can create something more expansive, successful, and contributory to our community than would be possible by either alone,” Egan said.

“FOL is committed to the goal of having the Loew’s host a regular schedule of commercial programming for the affordable enjoyment of area residents, and also as a means to provide support for the Theatre and other programming in it.”

Additionally, while Egan understood the questions about moving forward on this endeavor during the coronavirus pandemic, he pointed out that The Chicago Theatre opened up two or three years the Spanish Flu outbreak.

Loew’s Jersey Theatre was called “The Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment In New Jersey” when it opened at Jersey City’s Journal Square nearly 91 years ago for its soaring ceilings, coffered gold ceilings, plush red drapes, more than 3,000 seats, large stage for live shows, and large screen for movies.

In the mid-1930s, The Loew’s ceased presenting a regular schedule of live shows in the wake of the advent of talking pictures and the need to cut costs during the Great Depression.

Still, the Loew’s continued as a first run movie house, remaining an iconic local venue for decades, well past the time that many of its contemporaries were closed.

In 1973, the Loew’s Jersey was converted into a triplex to reflect the changed business model of motion picture presentation.

Then, in 1986, the Loew’s Jersey was closed, sold and slated for demolition, but FOL was formed and called for the Theatre to be reopened and restored as a multi-discipline arts and entertainment center.

Jersey City joined in this vision, and in 1993 bought the Loew’s Jersey.

“Having a project that’s got the team together, a partnership together, the dollars together, a for-profit operator for the FOL and the city, puts the city in a position to go after those dollars – so now is a good time,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2).

“The best thing for this theatre is right across the street: people don’t have to take their cars to come here. They can get on the train from New York and come here, they can come from Newark, they can come from Western Jersey,” explained Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, who noted he expects a lot of people from New York City to take advantage of the PATH train.

Early in Fulop’s first term as mayor, the feud between the city and the FOL was well documented, but today, both he and Egan expressed enthusiasm about being able to put the past behind.

“When the mayor first came into office, I don’t think he fully understood how that would work and how that could be done. We had some problems: after the problems we began to talk, and what we’ve put together is a way to accomplish those two things, that makes us all feel we can do what we have to do there.”

“We’re seven years older and understand this job a little bit better. If I could go back, I probably would’ve done it differently. I have a very clear vision on what I think this can be and maybe the way I went about it six or seven years ago, I could’ve done it differently,” Fulop said.

Back in 2014, the mayor supported a plan to have AEG Live – a worldwide sporting and music entertainment presenter – run the Loew’s Theatre, despite it being opposing by Egan and the FOL, but that never came to fruition.

The FOL’s lease to manage the theatre expired last year, which created an opportunity with the city to establish what happens next, Fulop said at the podium today.