The Truth About the Loew’s Jersey Theatre Grants

There’s been some confusion about the grants Friends of the Loew’s won from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund: wrong dates, inaccurate descriptions and disjointed histories. We want to clear that up, so here’s detailed information.

In October 2005 FOL was officially awarded a $600,000 grant from the HCOSTF for design and installation of a new air conditioning system in the Loew’s. But a little over just one month later, Jersey City began its FIRST challenge to our lease – which at the time was only one year old.

The City’s challenge made it impossible for FOL to proceed with the construction work of the HCOSTF grant for several reasons, including the fact that it made it impossible to secure bank approval of a construction bridge loan to FOL (which was necessary since HCOSTF grants are reimbursable, meaning you have to pay a bill first then wait to get paid back by the County.)

Despite this, FOL wanted to make some progress on the grant, so we hired an engineering firm to design the new AC system. (Payment for these design services was in small enough increments that FOL was able to comfortably float them without need for interim financing.) The cost of the AC design work ultimately was $65,000.

In 2008 it seemed we were close to a positive resolution of the City’s challenge to our Lease, so FOL applied for and won a second HCOSTF grant in the amount of $180,000 for replacement of the badly deteriorated side exit and load-in doors on the Theatre’s first floor. For this grant, the County did not make any money available to reimburse the cost of design services, so FOL retained our architect to create specs for the new doors and related hardware without any ability to be repaid; ultimately FOL paid about $10,000 out of pocket for the door – we were not reimbursed for this.

Unfortunately, the dispute with the City actually dragged on for another year, so FOL remained unable to move forward with constructing either the new AC system or the doors.

Then in July, 2009 the City and FOL signed a Memo of Understanding that ended the City’s dispute of our Lease. The agreement also contained several new provisions: The City agreed to directly oversee the construction of the safety and fire code repairs it was committed to funding. Because of this, the City also wanted to take on oversight of construction of the doors and AC work to be paid for with FOL’s two County grants, meaning the City would take on all the paperwork, handle payments requests and directly make payments – and the City agreed to come up with additional money to cover the increase in the cost of building the AC system that had happened during the years the City had held up its construction. To facilitate this, FOL asked the County to make the City a co-grantee with FOL so that City could directly make payments and then directly receive reimbursements. The City even asked to make some changes to the specs for the new doors, which FOL had to pay our architects to make. FOL agreed to let the City directly oversee the work of our HCOSTF grants because it was supposed to speed things up.

The City claimed to be waiting to go ahead with the AC and door work so those projects could be made part of a large bid package for the safety and fire code work.

But by 2010, the City still hadn’t’ allocated the Urban Enterprise Zone money it expected to use to pay for the code work and extra cost of the AC work – and by 2011 the Christie Administration essentially confiscated all UEZ moneys that had not been allocated by their municipalities. Jersey City lost $12 million of its unallocated UEZ dollars – far more than would have been needed for the Loew’s work.

After losing its UEZ money, Jersey City pretty much told FOL the Loew’s was out of luck, even though the City was supposed to locate alternative sources of funding for the work it had promised to fund. The City’s only suggestion was to urge FOL to ask the County to reprogram the $535,000 balance on our AC grant to instead pay for some of the critical safety and fire code work the City was supposed to fund – but wasn’t.

FOL did this, and in 2011 the County agreed to reprogram the AC grant to five very important safety and fire related projects:

· Restore fire standpipes in the Loew’s
· Install new emergency lighting
· Restore bronze entrance doors to ensure safe operation
· Repair main house fan to ensure code required air circulation
· Renovate stage rigging system to ensure safe operation

But engineering concerns related to water supply in Journal Square held up design of the standpipe work. And the City was slow in reviewing plans for the other four projects. So in 2012 and 2013, FOL had to ask on behalf of the City for additional extensions of time to complete this work.

Meanwhile, the City did solicit bids for the door replacement work, but in two rounds of bids the prices were too high. The City refused to provide any additional funding, so FOL’s Technical Director (an engineer and acoustics specialist) volunteered to work with FOL’s architect to re-design the door specs in order to make them more affordable. Because of this, the City’s third round of bids resulted in a price we could afford. Work began in the latter half of 2013 and was completed this year.

29 new doors with frames were installed and 2 original doors and their frame were restored – all with new closers, panic bars, locks, hinges and high efficiency sound seals; plus one new roll down door for stage load-in.

By the middle of 2013 the City had finally reviewed plans for the five safety projects that the County had agreed to fund instead of a new AC system. The City even authorized a contract for the bronze entrance door restoration, and was preparing to solicit prices for the other four projects.

But then Mayor Steven Fulop ordered the City not to go ahead with the contract for the entrance doors – even though this would probably cause the City to have to pay a penalty to the contractor – and not to proceed with any of the other four safety projects.

The Mayor’s explanation was that he wanted to keep his options open for spending the money with other projects the City might fund for the new management he hoped to bring in to the Loew’s. The Mayor did not answer FOL’s objection that safety concerns were being caused to continue unabated unnecessarily and FOL was being further hampered in our operations so the City could use grant money FOL had won to benefit some other organization.

All of this is, unfortunately, a prime example of how the City has hampered FOL and caused unnecessary delays in progress at the Loew’s through alternating inaction and hostility – and then tried to point a finger at FOL.