After years of debate about the future of one of Journal Square’s most significant landmarks, the city and a non-profit have taken a significant step towards a massive renovation that will restore an iconic theater into an arts destination.
Yesterday, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) officially issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a new operator for the Loew’s Jersey Theater at 54 Journal Square. The deal, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would include a $40 million renovation of the 3,000-seat theater, the cost of which will be split between the city and the potential operator.
If you have never been inside the theater, please go as soon as possible. The Baroque-style cinema first opened in 1929 as one of five Loew’s Wonder Theatres, a series of flagship movie palaces. Jersey Digs was given a tour of the facility several years ago and let’s just say they don’t make them like that anymore.
Loew’s closed the theater in 1986 and sold it to developer Hartz Mountain the following year. The company wished to demolish and redevelop the land but in 1993, the city bought the theater and signed a lease agreement with Friends of the Loew’s to preserve the landmark.
Friends of the Loew’s has performed some work at the property since its former days of neglect, repairing the ceiling and orchestra seats. Per the city’s RFP, the new operator will be required to partner with Friends of the Loew’s to provide local and affordable events to the community in addition to more international concerts and shows that should be drawn to the refurbished space.
Specifically, the RFP states that the new operator would be required to yearly host at least 20 musical performances by nationally recognized artists, 10 theatrical or stage performances, 10 comedy shows, and at least 20 other performances or events. There is also be an allowance for an unspecified number of events to be sponsored by Friends of the Loew’s and the theater would be available for private events when otherwise not in use.
Under the new plan, Friends of the Loew’s will be involved in the renovation plans and still oversee community programming, while the operator will book national and international acts to perform at the theater.
The RFP ends years of fighting over the future of the Loew’s. Fulop’s previous attempt to hire a commercial operator back in February 2014 led him to inform Friends of the Loew’s their lease was no longer legally binding. An ensuing lawsuit ended with a judge ruling that the lease was indeed still valid.
Both sides appear to have put any lingering bad blood behind them, as Fulop and Friends of the Loew’s Executive Director Colin Egan filmed a video together inside the historic property to announce the plans. Companies looking to manage the theater must submit their proposals to the JCRA by July 31 and the city says they expect to start construction in the fall with the hope of re-opening the facility in 2022.