Working with a new attorney, Friends of the Loew’s (FOL) convinced Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector Velazquez that it may indeed have a valid lease with Jersey City that would prevent AEG from taking over.
Only last month, Velazquez tossed the suit, ruling that the lease was not valid. After today’s decision, the lawsuit is back on.
“The judge said, ‘I was wrong,'” said Roberta Tarkan, FOL’s new attorney. “We’re back to square one.”
“This is nothing more than a procedural step and will unfortunately add time until we can open a renovated theater for Jersey City residents,” City Spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said. “In the long term, it doesn’t change one thing about the direction we are going other than this being an attempt to use the courts to try and run out the clock.”
With all due respect to the Mayor’s spokesperson, Friends of the Loew’s is not trying to run out the clock. On the contrary, we are the group that has been patiently waiting for 10 years for the City to do what it committed to do and work with us toward the goal of expanding the operation of the Loew’s as a performing arts center. Unfortunately, for all those years, the City hasn’t done this – so FOL has been forced to find ways to keep the Loew’s open and even expanding, albeit not to the extent we want or would have been so if the City had cooperated.
Consider that the City has been saying it is willing to fund up to $40 million in renovations to the Loew’s before AEG can use the Theatre to put on shows that will make money here for AEG. The incongruity is glaring when, in light of this, the City turns around and complains that FOL is not doing enough with the Loew’s in its present condition.
What FOL and the City agreed to 10 years ago was a progressive approach in which the City would fund the most basic repairs and upgrades to bring the Loew’s into compliance with the City’s own codes. This would have removed a big barrier keeping FOL (or anyone) from doing much more programming here. And in that approach, the City also agreed to provide FOL with funding for the kind of independent, arts management experts who have helped guide the creation and growth of performing arts centers around the country. Their knowledge was to help FOL, and reassure the City, by putting together a realistic plan for including major, revenue generating concerts (such as AEG can provide) in a larger mission of promoting local arts, diversity in the arts, affordable programming and community service. And with that plan in place, the code-related repairs taken care of, and the demonstrable support (as opposed to foot-dragging or out right opposition) of our partner the City, FOL would have been in position to look for grants and donations to reduce the amount of any additional money the City might consider putting into the Loew’s.
In a recent blog, Mayor Fulop talked about how important it is in the life of any city to ensure access to the arts for all – especially the young and those not so well off. FOL couldn’t agree more – in fact, we first said this when began the effort to save the Loew’s over two decades ago. But the Mayor is not correct to suggest that these important goals can be achieved in an arrangement that is led by a commercial promoter.
It doesn’t take an expert in arts management to anticipate that even under the best of circumstances, the for-profit imperative of the consortium Mayor Fulop wants will inexorably push all other kinds of events to the margins, especially if, as the Mayor has suggested, the consortium will be under pressure to give the City money to pay back some of the tens of millions he anticipates providing.
Artistic diversity, affordability, support for local arts, community interest are all goals that spring from something other than the profit motive. Put simply, it’s the difference between public TV and commercial TV, between the Wellmont Theatre and BAM. It’s why America’s most vibrant arts centers are run as non-profits, and why some of the most exciting urban revitalizations have been anchored by those arts center . And it’s why we are fighting to preserve our lease and vision for the Loew’s.
We still hope that Mayor Fulop will come to see that the approach FOL has advocated for years is the one that will achieve the goals he so eloquently quoted for the arts in Jersey City.