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Koo calls on city to inspect

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The developer behind a $160 million proposal to overhaul the RKO Keith’s Theatre in downtown Flushing faces yet another stumbling block on the way to the planned groundbreaking at the end of this year.

The newest round of criticisms of the project, which was approved by the city Board of Standards and Appeals in July and awaits only a cursory height approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, is aimed at developer Patrick Thompson’s current level of security at the vacant structure.

That concern prompted City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) to put pressure on Thompson Tuesday, and Landmarks Preservation Commission Executive Director Kate Daly said that the commission has contacted the developer regarding the issue.

“The Landmarks Preservation Commission has requested a report from the owners, and after a review of that report we may do an inspection,” Daly said Tuesday evening.

Jerry Rotondi, president of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theatre, a group that advocates for preservation of the beloved theater, has raised concerns that the building at 137-25 Northern Blvd. is not fully secured.

Rotondi said two acquaintances told him they saw youths throwing bottles from the theater’s roof at about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6 and he worries that such intruders could start a fire at the aging building or damage its crumbling landmarked lobby.

“I went to the theater after the kids were seen throwing bottles from the roof, and if you go around to the back of the building, there’s an opening you could get into. So we’re requesting an immediate inspection of the property by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to ensure the building is properly secured,” Rotondi said Monday. “The building should be sealed.”

Rotondi sent a letter Aug. 7 to Mark Silberman, an attorney for the city Landmarks Commission, requesting such an inspection and forwarded it to local leaders.

An inspection has yet to take place, according to Rotondi, and Thompson contends that there is no need for one to be undertaken.

“The building is totally secured,” Thompson said Tuesday morning. “There’s no story here.”

But a quick walk around the theater Monday night indicated otherwise as a door frame sat open and unhindered behind a fence atop a structure attached to the back of the main building. Two below-ground-level openings were visible from a parking lot behind the theater, suggesting that a crafty person could gain entrance to the structure.

Koo and his chief of staff, James McClelland, took a walk around the building Tuesday morning and saw the openings, prompting Koo to contact Thompson.

“The councilman and I visited the site today, and upon seeing three access points demanded that the developer immediately secure the area,” McClelland said.

McClelland said Koo’s office has also fielded concerns about fire safety at the building and that some community members have suggested the FDNY do an inspection to ensure the building meets fire codes and has a working sprinkler system. Thompson said “there is no story there either,” when asked about fire safety.

Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty said that because the building has been vacant for decades and Thompson has owned it less than a year and has viable plans to begin work there this year, Thompson should be able to get a waiver to avoid having to install sprinklers until after work begins as long as the building is fully secured from intruders.

“If he came to the board for help, I’d say he should write a letter to the fire commissioner saying he’s boarded up and secured the building,” Kelty said Monday. “He could ask for a waiver saying it makes no sense to have to put in an expensive sprinkler system when [he’s] going to be doing construction there by 2012, and will be putting in sprinkler systems and everything then.”

Thompson plans to dedicate $8 million to restore the theatre’s opulent 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 csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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