Will ‘Friends of Loews’ lose lease for theater? Volunteer group grappling with city over snafu

Imagine being the Friends of the Loews.

The volunteer group has worked to restore the historic Loew’s theater in Journal Square since 1986, and since November of 2004, they believed they had a lease with the city to manage its day-to-day operations.

But last month, they got a letter from the city saying their lease may be invalid.Lease, what lease?

The city’s Business Administrator, Brian O’Reilly, sent a letter Dec. 13 to the group saying, “After a review of the city’s files, it is apparent that the Friends of the Loews does not have a legally effective lease with the City.”

The City Council had approved a long-term lease in 2004 between the FOL and the city to operate and maintain the theater.

That has allowed the FOL enough stability to attract major promoters to present events and to make much needed improvements to the theater.

The FOL was formed in 1986 by Colin Egan and Patricia Giordan to save the historic theater, after the city, which owns the land, planned to sell it to a developer who wanted to demolish it and build office buildings.

O’Reilly’s letter goes on to say, “The lease executed on October 15, 2004 was subject to Council approval. However, that lease was never approved. A different lease was approved by the council by the Ordinance 04-073 on November 10, 2004. However, that lease was never executed.”

Two sources said that the snafu came to light because someone was looking to rent the theater for an event, and the city had to look up rental fees.

O’Reilly said letter came as a bit of a surprise to Giordan and the FOL.

“The lease was signed in October 2004 by myself, Mayor [L. Harvey] Smith, and Brian O’ Reilly, so O’Reilly is a witness,” Giordan said. “How could the City Council approve an ordinance without the executed lease?”

Giordan went on to say, “This seems to me like a simple clerical error that could be corrected.”

But nothing has ever been simple in the relationship between the FOL and the city – especially since the city suggests in the letter that the title to the land be given to a city agency. Simple is as simple does?

The letter recommends that the administration rescind the approved lease and convey the title to the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency. Then the JCRA could then designate a developer to help renovate the theater.

“Of course,” the letter said, “the City will ensure that your organization, Friends of the Loews, remains a strong voice in any development decisions concerning the theater.”

The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency is an autonomous agency that oversees the redevelopment in the city. There is past history regarding the Loew’s and the JCRA, as then-Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith in September 2004 got into trouble with the FOL when he suggested that ownership of the Loew’s be transferred from the city to the JCRA, who would be able to accelerate the renovation of the theater. What the 2004 lease said

The 2004 lease agreement calls for the FOL to meet yearly benchmarks toward renovating and operating the theater, and the city to be responsible for repairs to the theater, making sure it meets fire code and health standards.

The 2004 lease would allow the FOL to operate the Loew’s on a five-year basis with two five-year extensions. Why not just reintroduce it?

Giordan asked why the city can’t just reintroduce and approve a correct lease agreement now.

Going back and revisiting the ordinance would create instability for the Loew’s at a time when Giordan has felt the FOL has made strides in making it a viable arts and entertainment center.

“We had 67 events in 2005 that brought in about 17,000 people,” Giordan said. “Also, we have signed a contract with a stagehands union that would allow us to attract major promoters to hold more elaborate concerts.”

The FOL has also met with an unnamed major concert promoter this week and is close to finalizing a contract for some future concerts. But Giordan now wonders what will be the future for the FOL in terms of operating the theater.

“I realize that are still city officials who feel that it has taken the FOL too long to get this theater running, but a lease was agreed upon and we are moving forward we feel rather successfully,” said Giordan.

She hopes to settle this situation with the city before the next council meeting, which occurs on Wednesday.

But she complained that so far, the city has not returned her calls. The city’s ‘simple’ explanation


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