Uphold Friends of Loew's Lease to maintain Loew's Jersey Theatre as a true arts center serving our community & region.
This petition had 2,737 supporters
If you already know about the struggle Friends of the Loew's is waging to uphold our vision of the Landmark Loew's Jersey Theater as an arts center that's rooted in our community while also serving our region, we'd like to ask you to consider signing our petition.
But if you'd like to learn more about FOL and the Loew's, please read on:
In 1987, a group of concerned citizens in Jersey City came together to try stop their local government from making a big mistake: As part of an urban renewal scheme, official City policy was calling for the demolition of the then-closed landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre. Read a brief history of the Loew's here.
Those concerned citizens became Friends of the Loew's, and they defined a very different vision: restore and reopen the Loew's as an arts center rooted in its community but also drawing patrons from throughout the region. They pointed to the example of other cities around the country that had done something similar and sparked both cultural and economic revivals.
A Short History:
The Landmark Loew's Jersey Theatre at Journal Square, Jersey City is one of the grandest surviving examples of a unique building type: the Movie Palace, which despite the name was built to present both live performances and film. (See photos here.) In 1986 the Loew's closed as a first run cinema, and official Jersey City policy proclaimed -- incredibly -- that the grand Theatre should be torn down as part of a scheme for urban renewal. But concerned citizens knew better than their government and came together to oppose that bad idea, pointing to other cities that had reopened their old theatres as iconic landmarks, resources for the arts and spurs for economic revival. That group of citizens became Friends of the Loew's.
It took years of petitions and presentations by FOL, but City government finally caught up with this insight. Yet even after the City bought the Loew's in 1993 for a mere $325,000 with the avowed purpose of reopening it as an arts center, the City took no concrete steps to achieve that goal. Instead, the City talked vaguely about forming blue ribbon committees to make plans and fundraise for the Loew's -- but never did.
That's when FOL realized we had to be more than just advocates: First, we helped win a state preservation grant of $1 million, which eventually convinced the reluctant City to provide an equal amount. All of that money was needed to pay for "stabilization" repairs to keep the closed theater from decaying further. But a lot more repair work was needed before the Theatre could open again, and unfortunately the City was not willing to pay for it. So FOL rolled up our sleeves and provided a unique solution: We created a volunteer construction crew that planned and carried out a host of repairs and renovations to make the Loew's minimally operational; and we raised our own money for the tools and supplies we used. See photos of this work here.
By 2001, FOL's work made it possible to start programming the Loew's as an arts center. But additional renovations and upgrades were still needed -- most crucially, building and fire safety code-related repairs that could not be performed by volunteers. This put significant limits on the number and kinds of events that could be presented, which in turn significantly limited income and made growth very difficult.
- Repair of fire standpipes
- Installation of fire sprinklers and smoke detectors
- Installation of crucial emergency lighting
Because of these necessary repairs the 1,100+ seat balcony is off-limits, leaving only the 1,500 seats on the ground floor usable. This is not quite enough for most promoters of the kind of large commercial concerts that would generate income to help support the whole arts center operation.
Despite these limitations, FOL was still able to bring 30 events a year into the Loew's, ranging from a film series to community programming to a few mid-size concerts. And FOL accomplished this without funding from the City. Impressed by all that FOL had achieved on its own, City government finally asked how it could help FOL do even more.
The answer was a 15 Year Lease Agreement executed in 2004 between the City and FOL that effectively created a partnership and plan for moving the Loew's forward. (Read that Lease here.)
There were two basic goals:
1. Allow the Loew's to operate more fully, including being able to host major concerts regularly
2. Enable FOL to build on its accomplishments by growing, as the Theatre's capacity to operate grew, into the kind of professional, locally rooted not-for-profit management team that arts centers in many other cities have. These managements work with commercial concert promoters, national and regional show producers, local groups, schools, individual artists and other sources to bring a wide variety of programming into their theatres.
In the plan, the City agreed to the use of state-sourced Urban Enterprise Zone money (or to find an alternative funding source) to pay for critical remaining repairs, most importantly the building and safety code related work. Additionally, UEZ or other funds were supposed to be used to enable FOL to take advantage of independent, professional arts management experts in planning programming expansion, organizational growth, contracts with promoters, fundraising, etc. FOL agreed to pay back the UEZ funding through a ticket surcharge.
Importantly, FOL and the City understood that such demonstrable City support for Loew's -- and the further renovations, increased operations and arts management planning this support would bring -- would put FOL in a good position to compete for major donations and grants from private sources. FOL would pursue such monies, instead of more public funding, to pay for stage upgrades and other improvements that would be needed in the longer term. Additionally, FOL would immediately apply to the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund for a grant to pay for new air conditioning.
Though the City agreed to pay the Theatre's gas and electric bill to help support the arts, all other operating expenses would be borne by FOL. And to give FOL guideposts for growth while also protecting the public's investment in the Loew's, the Lease included benchmarks which FOL was to achieve in the first 5 years after the funding for the critical repairs, planning and air conditioning was provided. The arts management experts were to create benchmarks for the second and third 5 year periods. In the event FOL did not meet a majority of benchmarks in any of the 5 year periods, the City would be allowed to bring in different management.
If Jersey City had followed through on its part of the plan, the Loews' would have been made fully functional years ago, and by now FOL would be hosting a year-round, dynamic mix of programming from major concerts to local arts. Unfortunately, the previous City Administration failed to uphold its end of the Lease, and never applied for the UEZ moneys nor sought alternative funding. (Read a more detailed description here.)
As a consequence, for nearly ten years FOL has been forced to find ways to keep the Loew's open despite all of its limitations
A new Administration recently came to power in Jersey City by criticizing its predecessor for lack of vision and accomplishment and for not working with community-based groups striving to make a difference, like FOL.
But inexplicably, this new Administration has failed to recognize that Friends of the Loew's has been providing those critical ingredients to keep the Loew's project going. So rather than working with us to enable us to do even more, the new Administration is actively trying to push FOL aside and give the Loew's Theatre over to profit-driven management led by out-of-town commercial promoter AEG -- but only after far more tax payer money is spent on renovations than FOL has ever asked for.
As far as we know, the approach the new Administration is trying to take lacks the kind of independent, arts management review built in to FOL's Lease to fact-check important assumptions such as revenue and attendance projections and to access how the need to maximize income in order to make a profit and possibly service large debt will cut in to the kind of local arts, community service and other programming that a true arts center must present but which won't add to the bottom line
Arts centers are part business, for sure. But they are also missions driven by the even more important imperative to serve their communities. So the Loew's needs to keep its locally-rooted stewardship intact.
How You Can Help:
- Sign this petition to share your support of FOL
- Get the word out by sharing our Facebook updates via FOL
- Follow us on Twitter: @loewsjersey
- Follow us on Instagram: @loewsjersey
Today: Friends of the Loew's is counting on you
Friends of the Loew's needs your help with “Mayor Steven Fulop: Uphold Friends of Loew's Lease to maintain Loew's Jersey Theatre as a true arts center serving our community & region.”. Join Friends of the Loew's and 2,736 supporters today.