The Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission approved a “courtesy review” for the renovation of Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater in Journal Square during last night’s meeting, where several commissioners asked for more details on the project.
By Daniel Ulloa / Hudson County View
They did not have the power to block the project and as a result many referred to it as a “courtesy review”.
There will be an extensive renovation and restoration of the interior and exterior of the 92 year old building. Devils Arena Entertainment (DAE) is paying a $ 72 million renovation bill originally slated for a 2025 completion date.
DAE attorney Frank Regan said the theater renovation could serve as a catalyst for an artistic renaissance in Jersey City.
The Jersey City Planning Board has requested a review of the renovation project by the Historic Preservation Commission before its own hearing.
Gary Martinez, of OTJ Architects, noted that a lot of renovations are needed, although the theater is in better condition than others he has worked on with more historic original materials that can be left in place.
He also noted the need to repair the vast terracotta brick. However, they need to do more investigation.
“We want to get as close as possible,” he said.
They want to make sure that everything is safe and that the spare parts are removed.
An old cooling tower and a water tower will be removed so that new infrastructure can be installed there if necessary.
Martinez later explained that they had to make sure there were no water leaks through the terracotta building.
In response to a report from Friends of the Loew’s that air enters through a side door as designed, they want to create a door vestibule, as well as add an elevator for people with disabilities.
Martinez said the new side door will help with traffic in the winter.
“There are only a limited number of people who can walk through the front door at a time,” he said.
They know that the fire escape needs to be replaced and that two new loading doors would be added.
They will also change the seats to make them visible to everyone. Much work has been done to preserve the ornate ceiling. They want to be very delicate.
Commission Chairman Brian Blazak asked if they were going to apply for tax credits, to which Regan replied that they were exploring many sources of funding, including historic tax credits.
From there, Commissioner Austin Sakong said the presentation was too broad.
“These are really the details,” he said, noting that there was an “absence of all the things we typically demand of our candidates.”
“In the absence of all of those things, how do you suggest that we look at the request without being a rubber stamp?” Sakong continued.
Martinez took note of his remarks and said the renderings would be available as the project progressed.
“We’re long on the story and short on the details,” he admitted.
Regan said they are on schedule to complete the project by January 2024.
“I don’t know what I’m voting on. What is the finished product that we get in terms of quality level, level of completion? Added Commissioner Stephen Gucciardo.
Martinez sought to assure them of the process and noted that they would be working to restore it in great detail.
“These plans are more conceptual than we are used to,” said Blazak.
The commission agonized over the nature of the project for several minutes given the lack of details.
“It could be catastrophic or glorious,” said Dan Wrieden, head of historic preservation.
Regan noted that the planning board will review the plan next.
“It’s a half-prepared request at this point,” said Commissioner Robert Gordon.
Friends of Loews executive director Colin Egan said he had been involved in the preservation of Loew’s Theater since 1987 and explained that they had worked hard to preserve the building.
“We’re very, very happy to be working with the city at this point,” Egan said.
He noted that they would continue to provide the programming and preserve it as outlined in the developer’s RFP.
Egan acknowledged that this was an early part of the designs, but said he was confident in the plans.
However, he wanted the center aisle to be maintained, which would be done away with in the redesigned seats. Also, he didn’t want a TV permanently installed in the lobby.
“I, too, have concerns about the accuracy of what is being planned,” Egan said.
Senior historic preservation specialist Maggie O’Neil said other agencies are reviewing the plan and will take their notes into consideration. She noted that the theater is part of Plan Square Journal 2060.
O’Neil spoke well of the plan, saying “We are very happy with it.”
She added that they were upset with the plan which says “demolish too much because they want to restore the theater”.
O’Neil said they agreed with Egan on keeping the theater’s center aisle.
After much debate when reviewing the plans, they decided to make sure that the state preservation office would allow them to review the plans completed in October to make sure they are complete.
“We’re happy to come back,” Regan said, urging O’Neil not to check for timely updates.
“Absolutely, it’s part of the process,” Martinez agreed.
Loew’s Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the New Jersey List of Historic Places.
The measure was finally adopted unanimously (7-0).