City greenlights redevelopment of RKO Theatre in Flushing

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Flushing’s storied moviehouse is getting a long-awaited makeover.

The city Board of Standards & Appeals has granted final approval for a Manhattan developer to begin a $160 million redevelopment of the crumbling RKO Keith’s Theatre in downtown Flushing.

The board ruled 5-0 Tuesday morning to approve developer Patrick Thompson’s plans for a 17-floor, mixed-use residential building that will restore and maintain the beloved cinema’s landmarked lobby.

“It’s now been approved and we’re moving forward and looking forward to creating what will be a great new centerpiece for Flushing and a continuation of the development along Main Street and bringing new development to the intersection of Northern [Boulevard] and Main,” Michael Nussbaum, a spokesman for Thompson, said just after the vote Tuesday.

The vote brings to an end a long saga about the property deteriorating as developers bought and lost the theater over the years.

A 2005 redevelopment proposal by previous owner Shaya Boymelgreen which CB 7 approved fell through when Boymelgreen’s finances faltered, and in May 2010 Thompson bought the note on the property from Doral Bank for $20 million. Boymelgreen had owned the theater since 2002.

In 1999, notorious Flushing developer Tommy Huang pleaded guilty to a felony charge for ignoring asbestos contamination and pouring hundreds of gallons of fuel oil into the theater’s basement. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced to five years’ probation.

Neither BSA Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan nor Executive Director Jeff Mulligan returned requests for comment Tuesday.

Construction on the project will be contingent on Thompson’s ability to secure financing, which has been a tall task in the past year for other developers in Flushing, such as TDC Development, which is turning to Chinese lenders in search of hard-to-find financial backing for Flushing Commons, a $825 million mixed-use development project.

But Nussbaum said Thompson is prepared for work to begin on the project by the end of 2011.

“We’re not going to discuss finances, but we’re prepared to move forward with initial demolition before the end of this year,” Nussbaum said. “Patrick is very, very confident that he is going to be able to carry through what he has promised to the community and to the city.”

As for comment during the hearing, there was “none,” according to Nussbaum, who characterized the session as “somewhat anticlimac­tic.”

But Thompson is excited to begin the project at long last.

Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty voted against the project, saying it might have a negative effect on parking and traffic in the neighborhood, but he said Tuesday he was glad to see something move forward at the long-neglected site, at 137-25 Northern Blvd.

“We’ll have to monitor to make sure that it doesn’t have a major impact on the neighborhood as we do with all the other projects,” Kelty said. “We wish them good luck.”

Thompson plans to dedicate $8 million to fix the decadent lobby and create a two-story, green, undulating glass curtain to display the renovated interior to people walking by. The lobby would be the gateway to a tower with 357 residential units, a senior center, 385 parking spaces and more than 12,000 square feet of retail.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:43 pm, March 14, 2012
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