In its year-end message, the Friends of the Loew’s has struck a guardedly optimistic note on its ongoing negotiations with Jersey City and the theatre’s designated operator, Devils Arena Entertainment. At the same time, the not-for-profit group that saved the landmark baroque/rococo theater from the wrecking ball is raising concerns about some aspects of the planned renovation.
“We’re still negotiating the exact details of the agreement with the commercial operator and the city that will enable FOL to do all that we need to do at the Loew’s,” said the group.
Saying that it wanted to make sure that it would have the role envisioned for it in the request for proposals promulgated in 2020 by the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority, FOL nevertheless sounded upbeat.
“The good news is that all sides are still working to get the agreement done,” the message said.
In spite of a non-disclosure agreement limiting what they can say, the group is expressing concern about the new design.
“Full disclosure requires us to acknowledge that among the design issues that have been settled already, several cost-cutting decisions are a concern because they may have the potential to negatively impact some of FOL’s programming and even more broadly impose limits on the theatre’s overall operating capacity.”
One such issue is “the decision not to repair or replace the existing screen masking, mounted on the movie screen frame, that allows us to resize the screen for different aspect ratios (wide screen, cinemascope, etc.) Such masking is necessary equipment at all major screening venues.”
“The right kind of screen masking is a necessity, not a luxury” they write.
Last year, Mayor Steven Fulop announced a $72 million renovation of the theater in partnership with Devils Arena Entertainment, the operator of the Prudential Center in Newark. The announcement represented the realization of his seven-year effort to bring in a financially strong professional management company that can book national acts and compete with the likes of the Beacon Theater in Manhattan.
The Loew’s was spared from demolition in 1986 largely through the efforts of FOL. With an investment of sweat equity and grant money, FOL partially re-opened the theater in 2001. Over the ensuing years, FOL continued to restore the theater to the point that it hosted major acts such as Patti Labelle, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, The Duprees, and Beck.
In 2014, Fulop waged a bitter fight to evict FOL from the theatre and replace them with concert promoter AEG Live. The mayor’s effort came to naught in 2015 when a judge ruled that evicting FOL would breach the group’s 2004 lease.
The 2020 RFP stipulated that FOL would have a continuing role with the right to “book, produce, co-produce, present, co-present, sponsor, co-sponsor, and facilitate programming for the purpose of ensuring diversity, inclusivity, and/or affordability in events and activities at the Loew’s.”
Among other rights, FOL, according to the RFP, would also “participate in all design and construction meetings plus site visits and shall review and comment on all construction documents.”
FOL is now hoping it can rally the community to pitch in. “FOL needs to start fundraising to pay for repairing or replacing the existing screen mounted masking.”
FOL is directing those interested in making a contribution to its website.