Feds clear RKO for takeoff

The Federal Aviation Administration has given a final approval for the RKO Keith's Theatre project that would rise at the corner of Main Street and Northern Boulevard. Image courtesy Studio V
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The Federal Aviation Administration cleared plans to build a 16-story, mixed-use building around the landmarked lobby of the RKO Keith’s Theatre in downtown Flushing last week.

The project had been held up by concerns that it might have interfered with planes approaching LaGuardia Airport.

The green light from the FAA marks the end of a long application process for Patrick Thompson, the developer of the project.

He originally received confirmation from the city Board of Standards and Appeals to go ahead with the redevelopment last summer. The 162-foot structure would incorporate the beloved and landmarked RKO Keith’s Theatre lobby into the design, which also includes plans for 357 residential units and 8,000 square feet of retail space.

But on Sept. 23, the FAA issued Thompson’s lawyer, Howard Goldman, a letter saying the structure might interfere with the airport’s safe operation and that an investigation was needed.

Initially, that investigation was completed in December, but was not made final after a Virginia man filed an objection challenging the decision.

At the 11th hour Christian Kellberg, who has since testified at Community Board 7 about the dangers of having the building in the flight path of LaGuardia Airport, submitted a packet containing several reasons why he believed the project should have been disapproved.

It took the FAA several months, but on April 30 the agency sent Kellberg a letter alerting him that his objections have been overruled, which was a relief to developer Patrick Thompson.

“I am now free to finalize and complete the financing with the current partners and banks, and will begin constructing in the very near future,” Thompson said in a statement.

The FAA’s approval is valid until Oct. 30, 2013, which means Thompson must begin construction by then or go through the approval process all over again.

Recently, he put up a set of blue scaffolding along the front face to protect any pedestrians from crumbling pieces of the outer walls, according to a spokesman for Thompson.

But before any real work can be done, the developer and his team will need to submit new plans and permits to the city Department of Buildings to start tearing down the structure while preserving the lobby.

At a recent meeting, a DOB representative said the city has been trying to set up a meeting with Thompson to have a walk-through of the crumbling structure in order to let firefighters know what they are up against should the trashed interior suddenly catch fire.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 7:26 pm, May 9, 2012
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