The council approved a resolution 6-1 to override Mayor Glenn Cunningham's veto of a lease for the Friends of the Loews (FOL) to run the theater. But some council members weren't as harshly critical of the mayor as at previous council meetings. Rather, they exhorted Cunningham to try to work with the FOL, which has been restoring the theater since 1987 and running day-to-day operations since 1993. "If there are legal issues that deal with the agreement between the Friends of the Loews and the city, then it should be very important that the mayor sets those issues straight," said Ward D Councilman William Gaughan. Gaughan has been a vocal critic of Mayor Cunningham's handling of the Loew's lease situation and was one of the six who voted to override the veto.
Council President Harvey Smith, who also voted to override the mayor's veto, said after the council meeting that he finds the mayor's opposition to the lease agreement "disingenuous" since Mayor Cunningham once supported the Friends of the Loews as a council president against then-Mayor Anthony Cucci, when the theater was being put up for sale by the city in the late 1980s.
Ward F Councilwoman Viola Richardson was the lone dissenter against the override but said that the mayor and representatives of the Friends of the Loews group would meet with each other on May 3 to iron out their disagreements on the lease agreement.
Stan Eason, the mayor's spokesman, said after the vote that Mayor Cunningham's opposition to the lease agreement was a matter of principle.
"Why wouldn't you uphold the law, it's an illegal lease?" said Eason. Patti Giordan, co-founder of the Friends of the Loews, said that she was very happy with the vote and was looking forward to meeting with Mayor Cunningham.
"Once we sit down and discuss the issues, then we can certainly find common ground," said Giordan.
After the council meeting, the city's corporation counsel, Karen DeSoto, said that the meeting in May would be the first of several meetings to try to correct the lease.
"If you give a non-profit city property, they are supposed to be responsible," said DeSoto, "[Instead] we pick up all the liabilities."
DeSoto also said that the city is still looking at professional management to come in and take over the operations of the landmark Loew's with the FOL.
The lease agreement
At the March 24 City Council meeting, the city council vote 6-2 in favor of authorizing the Friends of the Loews volunteer group to continue to lease the historic theater from the city.
The "lease agreement" in question would require the city to pay $650,000 in the first year of the lease for repairs and other research and planning work.
The agreement reads, "...the city shall apply to the New Jersey Urban Enterprise Zone Authority for an additional non-recourse loan in the amount of $650,000 [which] shall be used by FOL as working capital over the initial term of the lease..."
But the next paragraph reads that if the application for the loan is not approved, "the city will provide to the FOL the funding...through sources other than the UEZ funding."
And then there are the issues of the negotiating of the lease agreement by solely the mayor's authority as opposed to the City Council's authority, the city being obligated to pay for all the structural and other repairs without construction being subject to advertising and bidding processes, and the agreement not being negotiated or presented by the mayor. All of which violate various state statutes.
In the lease agreement it also provides for the Friends of the Loew's to lease the property from the city for a term of 63 months for a sum of $1 per year, and for the FOL to assign the lease to third parties.
Wayans brothers, Galaxy company interested
The city has received offers to run the historic Loew's Theater by potential suitors as the Meadowlands Sports Authority, the Wayans Family (which includes actors Damon, Marlon, Shaun and other relatives) and most recently the Galaxy Theatres Corporation based in Guttenberg.
The Galaxy corporation operates nine theaters located in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania including two in Hudson County (Galaxy Triplex in Guttenberg and Hudson Street Cinemas in Hoboken). In March, Galaxy Theatres Corp. sent a proposal letter addressed to Mayor Cunningham.
The letter by Galaxy Theatre Corp. president Nelson Page came with a proposed agreement that would allow them to lease the theater for $1 per year for five years, and they'd maintain and operate it. Galaxy Theatre would oversee all renovation work to be done by the city for a proposed grand re-opening date of October 1, 2004 (which wouldn't include the installation of an air conditioning system and a computerized box office system), while Galaxy would bear the cost of operations that would include everything from film booking to general maintenance. Profits from the theater would be split 50/50 between the theater and the city.
Page spoke last week about his interest in the Loew's and how his experience in the theater business would help make the Loew's profitable.
"As a chairman of the Fort Lee Film Commission, I've been in the Loew's many times," said Page, "and right now you have to find professional management."
Page outlined his plan if Galaxy was able to take control of the theater by saying that he would be looking for the theater to be open four days a week (Thursday to Sunday) and that there would be a variety of community events, live plays performed by an in-house repertory group, silent and classic film screenings, and events presented by top promoters.
"I am for profit, and you have to draw a line and say this begins here," said Page. [I want] to bring traffic to Journal Square and to develop a great reputation."
As far the Friends of the Loews were concerned, Page had nothing but praise, saying that he's been appreciative of the work they have done over the past 15 years, but that it was time to "take the theater to a new level and operate it as a legitimate business."
Page envisions a role for the volunteers as consultants and as ushers. - RK .