JERSEY CITY, NJ - In what appears to be the next big step in restoring the Loew’s Theater and turning it into a performing arts center, Mayor Steven Fulop announced a new partnership with Devils Arena Entertainment (DAE), the largest purveyor of entertainment in New Jersey and operator of Prudential Center, one of North America’s top 10 most booked arenas to move forward on a unique $72 million agreement for the transformative restoration of the historic Loew’s Theatre.
This development comes nearly a year after the city settled its differences with the Friends of the Loew’s Theater to move ahead with plans to allow the city to take the lead in restoring the century old theater.
The partnership would transform the century-old theatre into a state-of-the-art 3,300-seat venue to attract both superstar and up-and-coming performing artists, serve as an engine of economic development and hub for the local Journal Square community, and expand Jersey City’s growing reputation as an unparalleled arts destination in New Jersey.
“The Loew’s restoration is decades in the making, and so I am encouraged and excited to partner with Devils Arena Entertainment, a reputable entertainment company and operator of the globally successful Prudential Center, as we take this monumental step forward in our commitment to restoring Loew’s Theatre to its former glory, reviving Journal Square, and growing our arts community,” Fulop said. “This one-of-a-kind partnership signifies our long-term planning for a post-pandemic future where we’re confident arts and culture will be a staple of life.”
The majestic Loew’s Jersey will be an integral part of the revival and rehabilitation of the Journal Square area - Jersey City's historic city center and one of the busiest transportation hubs in the region. Once called “The Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment In New Jersey” when it opened in Jersey City more than 90 years ago, the Loew’s Theatre has remained underutilized for decades following various roadblocks until the Fulop Administration stepped in and worked with local residents and community group Friends of the Loew’s (FOL) with a united goal of reviving the local gem and uncovering its untapped potential.
Construction is expected to begin in 2022 with an anticipated opening in 2025. Part of the agreement ensures priority to hire local, MWBE firms to help revitalize the regional economy and get people back to work.
“The Loew’s Jersey Theatre is an iconic community treasure that has played a long, distinguished role as Jersey City’s premier arts and entertainment venue. The opportunity to partner with Mayor Fulop, the Friends of the Loew’s, and the local Journal Square community to revitalize this historic venue is a privilege for us,” said Hugh Weber, President of Devils Arena Entertainment. “As the operator of the nearby Prudential Center, one of the top entertainment destinations in the United States, we know the importance that live performances play in galvanizing communities and stimulating economic activity. We envision Loew’s Jersey Theatre as a catalyst to help the citizens of Northern Jersey get back, literally, on their feet to celebrate world-class arts and music.”
“We look forward to actively working with JCRA to create the detailed redevelopment agreement that will harness DAE’s expertise in commercial show management and marketing while also implementing all that last summer’s RFP guaranteed to FOL,” said Colin Egan, Founder of Friends of the Loew's. “That agreement will continue FOL's role as the non-profit arm of the Loew's, so we'll go on with our volunteer activities that bring direct community participation in the life and preservation of this landmark, maintain and grow our support for local arts and other non-profit groups, and provide affordable programming. Perhaps most importantly of all, we'll continue to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the Loew’s.”
The rehabilitation and operation agreement ensures DAE, a proven owner and operator of industry-leading venues, will work closely with Jersey City and Friends of the Loew's to return the iconic theatre into the world-class centerpiece of arts and entertainment it once was, a statement said.
The plans call for the modernization of technology with state-of-the-art visual and acoustic upgrades as well as concessions and ticketing areas; reconceptualization of ingress and egress at the back and front of the house to meet ADA requirements and expand audience capacity; major infrastructure improvements (HVAC, plumbing, code requirements, electrical upgrades); and historic preservation of the stage lighting control board, pop-up microphone, and orchestra and organ lifts.
Once open, DAE will continue to work with Jersey City to provide another extraordinary resource in support of the surrounding community.
This progress in restoring the theater came after years of conflict that came to a resolution early in 2020 when the lease with Friends of the Loew’s Theater expired.
In 2014, the city attempted to turn the theater into a performing arts center and went so far as to award contracts for theater operations and restoration. But the Friends of the Loews took the matter to court and got a ruling that the city could not violate a contract it had entered into with the Friends more than a decade ago.
The city took possession of the theater in 1993 after the Friends and others halted efforts to demolish it to construct an office building.
While the Friends leased the property with the intention of restoring the historic theater for public use, the lease filed in 2004 required that code violations be addressed before any other work.
According to the Friends, the city originally pledged funds to help pay to bring the building up to code, but over time failed to live up to its promise. In 2009, the city and the Friends came to agreement that the city would use unexpended funds from its Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) fund to meet this obligation. UEZ money was also supposed to be used to hire a consultant to help with booking performances.
The plan went as far as the Friends agreeing to allow the city to oversee the construction work to bring up the facility to code, including by installing sprinklers and resolving other fire safety and health-related issues.
The city had about five projects planned, including work on the front doors that the City Council voted to authorize before then newly elected Gov. Christopher Christie took UEZ funds from urban areas to help balance the state budget, including about $11 million from Jersey City, bringing the project to a halt.