Loew’s Jersey Update – Lease Has Not Yet Been Signed

posted by Ross Melnick on September 28, 2004 at 4:41 am

JERSEY CITY, NJ — The following message was sent by Friends of the Loew’s:

“This was not the message we hoped and expected to send out in preparation for the Loew’s [Jersey] 75th Anniversary.

Last June, Jersey City’s Acting Mayor, L. Harvey Smith told FOL he would sign the long-awaited lease of the Loew’s to us. A press conference was held at the Loew’s in mid June during which Mayor Smith was expected to do just that, but instead he unexpectedly announced he could not sign the lease because of “legal technicalities”. He promised, however, that those technicalities would be cleared up by his Law Department in two weeks and the lease would be signed then.

Our first discussion with the Law Department after this seemed promising, and we expected swift action on the lease. But subsequently, each discussion with the Law Department has brought further delay, as the new corporation council and Mayor’s aides have raised increasingly arcane objections while returning again and again to issues that we thought were resolved. And though the Law Department has repeatedly expressed opinions about the lease, it has so far failed to provide FOL’s attorney with any statutes or case law to substantiate those opinions. It seems that the Law Department’s real agenda is not to clarify a few “legal technicalities” but to scrap the lease that was so carefully written and return to an antagonistic, uncooperative atmosphere that pits FOL against the City, undercut’s FOL’s ability to continue the restoration and operation of the Loew’s, and leaves the Theatre’s future very much in doubt.

This is the latest, but not the first frustrating delay and inexplicable twist that FOL has had to deal with. Most of you know that Friends of the Loew’s defined and has since led the effort to save, restore, reopen and operate the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre as a non-profit arts
center. For ten years now, Friends of the Loew’s has managed an extraordinary program of volunteer labor that first made the Theatre functional again after years of abandonment, and now continues restoration work while also operating and maintaining the Theatre. FOL undertook these responsibilities because Jersey City was not able to fulfill commitments it made when it purchased the Theatre.

But FOL has done all of this essentially on a handshake, without any protection or acknowledgment of our role by the City. This situation has greatly hampered our work.
Without a clear expression of support and faith from the City, it has grown increasingly difficult to recruit and motivate volunteers. Similarly, it is all but impossible to seek significant donations when FOL has no official authority. And without real control of the Theatre, we are in no position to make long-term plans or enter into long-range agreements with show promoters. In the past year alone, we have had to turn away several dozen booking requests because of this. And of course, there has always been the anger that FOL could be thrown out, and the Loew’s given over to an individual or group with political connections.

Mayor Bret Schundler originally promised to give FOL a lease of the Theatre because, as he
explained, “we had earned it”. But he vacillated at the behest of one of his advisors who put down FOL as “little people who like to change light bulbs.” Mayor Cunningham first expressed disbelief at Schundler’s lack of action and expressed unqualified support for FOL. But soon the Mayor began to listen to friends and supporters who libeled FOL as “not professional.” Supporters of the Mayor who wanted to become show promoters began conniving to take over the Loew’s. Discussion that had begun over terms of a lease for FOL were broken off by the Law Department.

Frustrated by this impasse, more than a year ago City Council President L. Harvey Smith
appointed a committee to “find out what FOL needed” to accelerate the pace of restoration
and operation of the Loew’s and to make certain that a lease of the Theatre to FOL was
prepared to reflect these needs. This committee worked diligently for months and prepared a document that would finally give FOL the authority and additional support we need, while establishing benchmarks for progress that would protect the City’s interest in the Theatre and its success.

The Council, including Council President Smith, overwhelming passed this lease, and even
upheld it over the previous Administration’s veto. But now, Acting Mayor Smith is delaying singing the lease he initiated and voted for three times.

While continuing to express his support for FOL, the Mayor first insisted that we make several concessions – most notably that the extended term of the lease be reduced from 25 to 15 years. Though this shorter term will make it harder to win some grant funds, we nevertheless agreed to the change. Yet despite this, Mayor Smith has not yet instructed the Law Department to come to closure on the lease.

And so the Loew’s will mark its 75th Anniversary – a milestone that is only possible because of FOL’s civic activism – with its fate and that of FOL’s still very much uncertain. We are puzzled and troubled by this impasse, but continue to hope to be able to work with Mayor Smith so that the lease may yet be signed before the end of the year.

But we very much need you to continue to express your support for FOL. Please join us, starting at 6:45 PM, on Tuesday, September 28th to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre AND show support for FOL. Your participation, if at all possible, will be important.

If you cannot attend, please consider sending messages of support to FOL at P.O. Box 3779, Jersey City, N.J. 07303, or by email to . If you have any
questions, please call at (201) 798-6055. Thank you for your continued interest and support."

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