(click link to see photo of architect’s rendering)
RKO Keith’s sequel: $160M job on landmark is slated to start in 2012
BY Nicholas Hirshon
NY DAILY NEWS WRITER
Friday, August 5th 2011, 4:00 AM
A Queens movie palace that became a pockmark on downtown Flushing will begin its $160 million transformation into a high-rise early next year, the developer vowed Thursday.
Patrick Thompson said that he is “looking forward very excitedly” to starting the renovation of the long-vacant RKO Keith’s theater.
“It’s an eyesore for 25 years, and everybody wants something new to rise from the ashes,” Thompson said.
Thompson plans to restore the theater’s landmark lobby, gutted two decades ago by infamous developer Tommy Huang, and incorporate it into a 17-story tower with stores and apartments.
His vision cleared its last major hurdle in July when it won approval from the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which grants zoning changes.
Asked why he can succeed where Huang and successor Shaya Boymelgreen failed, Thompson replied, “The times are better, and I’ve got the right plans.”
But his idea still faces skepticism in a community where the RKO Keith’s – a city landmark – sat empty since the 1980s despite its prime spot on Northern Blvd. at Main St.
Some fear the proposed 385 parking spaces won’t be enough to enough to accommodate 357 apartments, stores and a community center.
Thompson has cited support from Flushing’s Community Board 7, which overwhelmingly approved his concept.
But two notable board officials – Chairman Gene Kelty and Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian – voted against it.
Apelian did not raise objections when asked about the project yesterday.
“Let’s see him build it and take it from there,” Apelian said.
Kelty did not return a call seeking comment.
Downplaying the detractors, architect Jay Valgora, who designed a “curtain of glass” facade for the RKO Keith’s development, said he has received mostly positive feedback.
“We’ve had tremendous support,” he said. “It’s too important of a site and too valuable of a site that it can’t just stay the way it’s been.”
A California preservationist, meanwhile, has raised questions about whether the 175-foot development near LaGuardia Airport has received FAA approval.
Christian Kellberg, a former Queens resident who posts regularly on a Facebook page devoted to the moviehouse, said the RKO Keith’s site is cleared only for development up to 136 feet.
“What really stands out about this is the biggest thing they’ve ever built close to LaGuardia,” said Kellberg, adding the RKO Keith’s is about 7,000 feet away from a runway.
When Boymelgreen sought a zoning switch to allow his planned development of the RKO Keith’s site in 2005, he said he had FAA consent to build high.
But Kellberg forwarded the Daily News a recent email exchange in which a FAA official suggested to him that Thompson must file a new application.
Thompson insisted yesterday he has FAA approval. Thompson spokesman Mike Nussbaum added the project “is 100% complying with the FAA.”
FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac did not return phone calls inquiring whether Thompson has the agency’s go-ahead.