Crain’s New York
July 13, 2011
Landmarked RKO Theater ruin to be reborn
By Amanda Fung
Proposal to build into 17-story, 357–unit apartment building atop remains of the RKO Keith’s Theater wins key approval; construction of $160 million project could start by year’s end.
Studio V Architecture – A rendering of the remade RKO Keith’s Theater.
The landmarked but crumbling RKO Keith’s Theatre in downtown Flushing, Queens, will officially be reborn as a residential rental complex.
Patrick Thompson, the latest in a series of developers to attempt to rejuvenate the theater, received the final approval needed to move forward with his plans to turn the 83-year-old property, located at the intersection of Main Street and Northern Boulevard, into a 17-story, 357–unit rental building. The Board of Standards and Appeals voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the number of apartments in the complex.
“I am very delighted and look forward to starting construction,” Mr. Thompson said.
In mid-December, Mr. Thompson submitted an application to the Board of Standards asking to modify plans that had been submitted by its previous owner. The changes included increasing the number of units from 200, increasing parking spaces inside the building to 385 from 229 and increasing the retail square footage to 17,000 from 11,000. The property’s overall height, square footage bulk and visual look are to follow the plans that the Board of Standards originally approved back in 2005. Mr. Thompson plans to preserve the theater’s ornate lobby.
The Board of Standards said it held two hearings on the proposed amendments and reviewed financial and environmental analyses submitted. It determined that the amendments do not alter the findings of the original plans.
“This long-neglected site is finally on the road to rebirth as a mixed-used development that will provide much needed housing and a senior center,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. “From the 1920s to the 1980s, when it was vacated, the RKO Keith was a major entertainment Mecca for everything from vaudeville shows to motion pictures.”
Mr. Thompson is the third developer to tackle this project. Two previous owners failed in their attempts to revamp it. These began in 1986, when Queens developer Thomas Huang bought the already badly deteriorated property with plans to convert it into a retail complex and hotel. He was accused of demolishing landmarked portions of the theater and hit with multiple building violations. In the end, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and stopped work on the project.
In 2002, then-high-flying Brooklyn developer Shaya Boymelgreen bought the theater and announced plans to build a condominium on the site. When he defaulted on his mortgage, Mr. Thompson stepped in, paying Doral Bank $20 million for the loan.
“We are happy to have support from all segments of the community and elected officials,” said James McClelland, chief of staff for City Councilman Peter Koo, who represents that area. “RKO has been an eyesore for so many years and is at the corner of what is considered the gateway to Flushing. This is another step forward.”
Mr. Thompson expects to start construction of the $160 million project as early as the end of the year.