Union theater to make updates after mayor sends letter

Photos by Brian Trusdell
Two lonely light bulbs are all that remain on the Union Center movie theater marquee, above, while a sagging blue tarp, with telltale puddle below it, and missing tiles, right, were among complaints from Union Mayor Michele Delisfort.

UNION, NJ — The movie theater in Union Center will be upgraded after Mayor Michele Delisfort chastised its owners, calling the establishment an “eyesore” and a “blight” on the downtown area in a Jan. 28 letter.

“We’re working diligently with the town to bring everything up to standards,” Peter Kafash, chief financial officer of Empire Cineplex, which owns the Union Empire Cinema on Stuyvesant Avenue, said in a Feb. 6 phone interview.
Kafash told LocalSource that the inside of the theater has been repainted and the marquee will be replaced in the next two to three weeks.

“The outside will be getting a face lift, so to speak,” he added. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get back to the township’s aesthetic standards.”

Delisfort confirmed that her letter calling for the theater’s owners to “exercise power and authority as the franchiser of the movie theatre over the franchisee/property owner to bring their property up to safe and aesthetic standards,” has already had an impact.

“The owner has reached out to the Township Administration Office and there is a large amount of positive support from the residents on social media who would like a nice, safe, comfortable theater to attend in town,” Delisfort said in a Feb. 5 email.

In her letter, a copy of which the township provided to LocalSource, Delisfort said the theater has been issued numerous violations by the fire, health and building departments. Most recently, it was temporarily closed Jan. 23 due to an issue with their fire alarm system.

“Public safety is our main concern and we’ve already dealt with those recent violations,” Kafash said.
Empire Cineplex was in court Jan. 31 to address the summonses issued. According to the letter from Delisfort, the Township Administration Office has fielded complaints from several moviegoers stating that they “refuse to visit again due to the conditions they have experienced while at the theatre such as rain pouring in front of the movie screen while they are watching a movie that they paid to see.”

Along with the violation for nonworking fire alarms, Empire Union Cinemas also has received two summonses for rodent infestation, a violation for not supplying adequate heat to the building and failure to submit a report on testing and maintenance of the sprinkler systems, according to the mayor’s letter.

The establishment also received an imminent hazard violation in October, which focuses on the aesthetic aspect of the building because the property was not being maintained to township standards. The violation stated that the owners were required to replace all broken electrical signs, repair missing tiles on the exterior facade and replace the “sagging marquee over pedestrian walkway,” according to the letter.

“In my mayor’s address on New Year’s Day, I made a commitment to rid the town of blighted sites and eyesores in the township and this is just part of that initiative,” Delisfort said in her email.

At the end of her letter, the mayor stated that the Township Committee has completed a downtown streetscape renovation, with more than $2 million invested in the repaving of the road and sidewalk renovations. “As you can imagine, an eyesore such as this theater is a blight on our downtown and we will no longer tolerate this,” the letter said.

While Kafash said calling the theater an “eyesore” is just “the town’s opinion,” he said the theater has no issue with making the necessary upgrades.