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Kaufman gets ready to expand studio space

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Kaufman Astoria Studios will finally break ground this fall on a $20 million project that includes a new soundstage and support space, the president said, while it eventually plans to close off a portion of 36th Street to allow for the creation of a studio lot.

The studio, which has been planning to expand its facilities for nearly nine years, will begin work in August or September on a new 18,000-square-foot soundstage as well as 22,000 square feet of support space, such as dressing, makeup and grip rooms, hair and wardrobe, Kaufman President Hal Rosenbluth said.

"This is coming on the heels of state legislators giving tax breaks for production costs, so we're very excited," Rosenbluth said. "We're seeing a lot of activity coming back to New York because of tax credits."

Kaufman has been the home for "Sesame Street," which shoots at the studio, for several decades. Several films have also recently wrapped at the studio, including a currently untitled film by Woody Allen and a remake of the 1974 thriller "The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3."

The expansion project was originally proposed nine years ago, but was put on hold following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Rosenbluth said. The studio has been fund-raising for the project for several years and is now planning further expansion, including shutting down part of 36th Street, where a Hollywood-styled studio lot with indoor and outdoor sets will eventually be constructed, he said.

"This will be a huge benefit not only for Kaufman Astoria, but also for the neighborhood," Rosenbluth said. "Nothing exists like this anywhere in New York and it will bring great economic development to Astoria."

The studio has helped bring Starbucks, Pizzeria Uno, the Kaufman Astoria movie theater on 38th Street, a gym, the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and a health spa to the community, Rosenbluth said. He said the creation of the new lot would also likely attract new retailers and restaurants to the community.

"If you have been here for a couple of years, you can look up and down the avenue and say, 'Wow,' " Rosenbluth said. "The transformation has been dramatic. There's a sense of legitimacy to the avenue that has helped spur a lot of growth."

He said the studio also owns property in the neighborhood that may one day be developed into a hotel or office building, but those plans are preliminary. In the meantime, the studio is preparing for this fall's groundbreaking and putting in an application with the city to "demap" 36th Street for the creation of the $2 million studio lot.

Astoria's Museum of the Moving Image, which is located across the street from Kaufman's original studio building, is also currently undergoing upgrades with a $65 million renovation and expansion.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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