What’s the Story With the Loew’s Balcony?

It seems some people don’t realize that Friends of the Loew’s began the massive project of refinishing and reinstalling the seats in the balcony several years ago.  So far, a dedicated team of volunteers has removed decades of rust and grime from the metal seat frames still bolted to the floor and the hundreds of associated metal parts of the seats in the Loge area. They’ve repainted the frames and parts with a water-based industrial epoxy primer and top coating.  The volunteers also removed, stripped, refinished and reinstalled the wooden armrests, and have reinstalled most of the reupholstered backs and bottoms in the Loge.  Right now, volunteers are working on refinishing the hand rails that ring the Loge.  As always, the paint and other supplies are being paid for from FOL’s own funds, small donations and grants (non-government sourced). 

Unfortunately, the Loew’s massive balcony – over 1,000 seats – remains off-limits for public use until the City fulfills its 10 year old commitment to find the funding necessary to bring the Theatre into compliance with its own safety and fire codes – including repairing the fire escapes from the balcony.  This is why it’s been difficult for FOL to work with commercial promoters to bring more concerts into the Loew’s – for most shows, the promotes need more seats than we have available on the first floor.

The inability to use the balcony is also why FOL paused our volunteer effort of refinishing and reinstalling seats after we had completed most of the seats on the first floor back in 2001.  The seat work was one of the most tedious, time-consuming projects FOL had taken on.  It made sense to hold off on continuing it until there was some timeline for when the balcony could be used.  This was especially true since beginning in 2001 the Loew’s was reopened for limited events, so volunteers were needed to help support theatre operation in addition to ongoing renovations and maintenance. 

When the City ended its first challenge to our lease, it briefly seemed that the City would keep its commitment to carry out the important repairs necessary to use the balcony, so FOL prepared to resume our volunteer seat work.  But of course, by 2011 the City had lost its UEZ money and so was again ignoring its commitment to the Loew’s.  But FOL decided to press on with seat work in the balcony anyway – partly in the hope that the effort might prod the City into doing what it is supposed to do.  But because there was, realistically, no timetable for being able to reopen the balcony and, thereby expand operations, FOL also decided to pursue a new strategy of undertaking important technical upgrades to stage lighting and sound in order to make the limited operations on the first floor more practical.  Both the seat re-installation and technical upgrades will continue this Summer with volunteer labor.  

The Latest from the Loew’s Jersey Theatre

If you already know about the struggle Friends of the Loew’s is waging to uphold our vision of the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater as an arts center that’s rooted in our community while also serving our region, we’d like to ask you to consider signing our petition: http://goo.gl/GX67wN

If you’d like to learn more about FOL and the Loew’s, please visit our friendsofloews.org website or read our summary within the petition.

Status of Legal Proceedings:

Friends of the Loew’s has decided to continue the legal defense of our Lease of the Loew’s from Jersey City because not to do so would allow the City Administration to turn away from Jersey City’s long-standing commitment and take the Loew’s in a direction that is neither acceptable nor necessary.

So FOL’s attorney will be asking the Court to review a recent decision that threatened our Lease and the future of the Loew’s.

A Regional Arts Center With Local Roots:

The Loew’s Jersey Theatre was saved by a grassroots effort that understood the Loew’s importance not just as an iconic local landmark but also as a place where a wide variety of programming would create a special destination for our community and region: A place for major concerts as well as local arts, film, community service, and more; some expensive shows mingled with more affordable programs.

The idea was to combine the best aspects of historic theatres-turned arts centers around the country, from the Count Basie in Red Bank, New Jersey; to the Fox in Atlanta, Georgia; to Proctor’s in Schenectady, New York, and add a spin unique to our area by building local management rooted in our community.

A Plan Is In Place:

Ten years ago, Friends of the Loew’s and the City of Jersey City committed to working together in a public/non-profit partnership with a detailed plan to fulfill this vision. Unfortunately, the City has simply not kept most of the commitments it made — specifically, to find the fairly modest funding for the most important remaining repairs the Loew’s needs to host bigger, income-generating shows and also for independent, expert planning to assure the best programming and successful fundraising. This money, it should be noted, was to be paid back to the City through a ticket surcharge.

Despite the City’s failure, FOL has kept its commitment by keeping the Loew’s open and growing for ten years. In just the last year we hosted over 80 events that ranged from a major pop concert to local arts to free community events. Obviously, we would have done much more had our partner the City kept its part of the plan.

The Current Challenges:

What the Jersey City Administration is trying to do now is to use the limitations that the City’s own failure to keep its commitments has caused to justify a claim that the vision for the Loew’s can’t be achieved. But this is just not the case: What FOL has done WITHOUT the City’s help is proof that much more is, at the very least, possible if not likely with the promised help.

When FOL asked Jersey City’s Mayor point blank why, since he campaigned on a promise of fixing mistakes made by the previous Administration, he wasn’t willing to keep the City’s commitment and try to achieve the longstanding goal for the Loew’s, he said simply he didn’t want to have to wait to see if it would work.

Instead, the Administration is pushing its own idea that it thinks sounds faster and easier: to turn the Theatre over to a consortium led by commercial promoters, and give this group far more public funding than the City ever committed (but never delivered) in its partnership with FOL. At best, the result of this would be to reduce the Loew’s to being just another commercial concert venue as for profit management strives to maximize its income and possibly struggles to make large loan payments. But there really is no guarantee even as to how much programming that arrangement will bring. Across the U.S., commercial managements come and go from venues when they fail to meet their own business plans.

The Bottom Line:

If the City Administration gets its way, the result will be a far diminished resource than what the Loew’s can and should be for Jersey City — and the region. And if the City can get away with incorrectly diminishing and dismissing what civic spirit and activism has already accomplished with so little at the Loew’s, it will be a rebuke of the kind of grass roots, civic activism that has led not just the effort to save, restore and operate the Loew’s but also many other important civic projects in Jersey City. And it would be a slap in the face to all those who have donated funds or given more than 122,000 volunteer hours to FOL in pursuit of the goal of the Loew’s as a true, community arts center.

It’s for these reasons that Friends of the Loew’s will continue the defense of the better plan for the Loew’s Jersey Theatre.

Arts centers are part business, for sure. But they are also missions driven by the even more important imperative to serve their communities. So the Loew’s needs to keep its locally-rooted stewardship intact.

How You Can Help:

Sign this petition to share your support of FOL

– Get the word out by sharing our Facebook updates via FOL

– Follow us on Twitter: @loewsjersey

– Follow us on Instagram: @loewsjersey