And Just Who Wasn’t Paying Attention Downtown?

In a recent online post, the Republican candidates for borough council claimed that members of the community, including members of the borough council, “were taken by surprise” by the recent sale of the Madison Theater building and the subsequent closing of the Bow Tie Cinema. They declared that “with fair warning and advanced notice, impassioned residents could create a foundation and raise funds to buy the property and preserve our historic cinema.” They then go on to state that “the community was not afforded that option, because our elected officials, the only group (emphasis ours) that could have possibly foreseen this event, did not.”

This is preposterous.

The Republican candidates are acting like someone who walks into the theater at the end of the movie and then makes up the beginning. The fact that the building was put up for sale was common knowledge. If the Republican candidates were at all engaged in the community, they would have known this and could have personally acted on behalf of the community. In fact, all they would have had to do was to see the “For Sale” sign on the side of the building to know it was for sale. Or they could have kept up with local events by reading the Madison Eagle. If they had, they would have been well aware that the building had been up for sale since late 2015 and that there was an obvious potential that the theater would close. The following is a link to a December 23, 2015 front page article in the Eagle announcing the planned sale: http://www.newjerseyhills.com/madison_eagle/news/historic-madison-theater-up-for-sale-but-movies-will-go/article_e9831f8e-9f31-5441-a4fd-c5ebd5fde977.html. That was a year and a half ago – plenty of notice. And the following is a November 14, 2016 article noting that the building was still up for sale: http://www.newjerseyhills.com/madison_eagle/news/historic-madison-theater-still-up-for-sale/article_3e138cf1-5fa4-5dcf-ac90-0d6267d671e4.html. That was 9 months ago.

So the Republican candidates should have known there was going to be a sale, but they did or said nothing. Although Bow Tie cinema never announced any plans to close the theater (until they did), their history in neighboring towns like Summit certainly suggested that closing was a possibility, but the candidates did or said nothing. On the other hand, members of the borough administration understood the implications of a sale, and have in fact acted on our behalf doing their very best to keep our theater in place.

Just as Mayor Conley and administration worked hard to get Allergan to choose Madison as their new headquarters, much work quietly happened prior to the sale. This included Borough representatives meeting with a number of parties that might be interested in acquiring the building and maintaining the movie theater. They also worked with the seller’s real estate agent to speak with potential buyers who had contacted them about the building. After the sale was announced, they worked with the new owners and Bow Tie Cinema to try and work out a lease sharing deal, but Bow Tie management was not interested in remaining in Madison and they closed down the theater. The administration continues to work with the new owners to see if a movie theatre can some way be incorporated in the new building. They are also talking to operators of “boutique ” theaters to see if they might be interested in coming to Madison.

Leadership does not come from shouting, “The sky is falling,” it comes from bringing parties to the table, working towards a solution. At this time the new owners have not submitted any formal plans to the borough, so we do not know what they intend to do with the building. But at least the administration, with the mayor’s backing, has been working to maintain a theater in Madison while, at least from the posted statement, the Republican candidates appeared totally oblivious to the whole affair.