That was just the beginning of what may be their best season yet, which includes performances by music stars Beck (Oct. 21) and Yo La Tengo (who performed on Sept. 29), the annual Halloween show on Oct. 31, and screenings of Vampire films on the weekend of Oct. 27.
Much of the credit for booking the upcoming programs goes to the Friends of the Loew's (FOL), the volunteer group that operates the theater that the city owns. But the relationship between FOL and the city has become strained because the city's questioning the validity of FOL's lease to operate the theater remains unresolved.
On Oct. 15, 2004 the City Council approved a long-term lease between the FOL and the city to operate and maintain the theater. The lease allowed FOL to attract major promoters for events and to make much needed repairs to the theater.
But in December of 2005, the city's Business Administrator Brian O' Reilly notified the FOL that the council-approved lease was not signed by then-acting Mayor Harvey Smith, which rendered it null and void.
And this summer, FOL President Colin Egan was terminated from his job as a project manager for the Loew's Theatre at the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation without sufficient reason.Turning over a new lease
The 2004 lease agreement calls for the FOL to meet yearly benchmarks toward renovating and operating the theater, and the city to be responsible for theater repairs to meets fire code and health standards.
The 2004 lease allows the FOL to operate the Loew's on a five-year basis with two five-year extensions.
James Tutak, FOL's attorney, said recently he is "cautiously optimistic" that the city will come to terms with the FOL.
"[FOL's] position is that the council had ample time to review the lease based on a review of the transcript of the October 2004 meeting that the correct lease had been signed," said Tutak.
In a letter to O'Reilly dated Jan. 26, Tutak reiterated the FOL's current stance that the correct lease had been signed and that, if necessary, he would "obtain a judicial determination upholding the Friends of Loews' rights under the lease."
City Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis said last week he would like to see a resolution "as soon as possible" but has been frustrated by the delay. He also said he could not comment further since negotiations are ongoing.
"I've written letters to Mr. Tutak and there have been meetings scheduled but they are usually cancelled," said Matsikoudis. "We want at the end of the day to come to a resolution."
Matsikoudis outlined in an Aug. 6 letter to Tutak that there are unresolved issues with the lease. Among them, the lease calls for the city to be responsible for all structural repairs and new construction work without specifying a price or cost limit. He also said the lease fails to require the FOL to provide the city with a report on theater activities for the public, the value of those activities, an affirmation of the FOL's tax-exempt status, and a disclosure statement of the FOL's ownership interest in the theater.
Tutak admitted that because he suffers from an ongoing illness and is handling an unrelated case, he has not been able to meet directly with the city's Law Department on the matter. A representative from Tutak's office said there was no movement in the lease negotiations last week.
Last week Mayor Jerramiah Healy said he has not kept track of the lease situation. But he commended the FOL for the work they have done in their nearly 20 years of existence.
However, as he has done in the past, he advocated for the theater to be run by professional management.
"Friends of Loew's have done a very good job up to now, an excellent job preserving and restoring [the theater]," said Healy. "But we need something more than that right now and hopefully we will be able to find that something and make it an up and running concern that pays for itself." The show must go on
Egan said last week that the theater is going through an "exciting and busy" period that could make one forget about the lease but it is "still in the back of his mind."
He pointed to the upcoming Beck show - booked on only two weeks notice through Hoboken promoter Todd Abramson - as well as other shows booked through early November.
"The city raised the doubts about the lease, although I believe we have a legitimate lease, and is making it harder to work with us," said Egan. "But the Friends want this settled since this is a good time to go to our financial sponsors as well as attract new ones since they'll see how busy we are."
Having the lease issue settled also enables the FOL to look at going beyond just renting out the theater for various acts.
"Having a lease could enable us to raise more money and start looking at attracting performers by providing an equity stake in the performance and bringing in more money," said Egan.
Egan also said a lease would provide financing for a few more employees to help in the theater office full-time.
Egan said he wasn't too hopeful about being employed with the city again.
"I think the city has made it clear that they don't want to bring me back, but I'll survive," said Egan. "It just means a lot of peanut butter sandwiches."
Pat O'Melia, local radio and TV show host and supporter of the FOL, said that Egan's dismissal was done to weaken the FOL as a group, thus giving the city leverage in changing the lease.
O'Melia also said it is paramount that the Loew's situation is settled.
"That theater is an anchor of the revitalization of Journal Square, especially with the various redevelopment projects going on in the Square," said O'Melia. For information on the upcoming Loew's schedule, visit www.loewsjersey.org or call (201) 798-6055. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org