The new developers of Flushing’s RKO Keith’s Theatre will not deviate from old plans to develop the site into a 17-story mixed use complex, but might consider building condos rather than rental units, the developer’s representative said.
“The real important thing for the community to know is they bought the plans and they are adhering to existing approvals by the community and city,” Michael Nussbaum said. “They aren’t asking for any additional changes and are committed to restoring the landmarked lobby.”
The landmarked theater, which has sat vacant, at 135-35 Northern Blvd., for 25 years, was sold to developer JK Equities, headed by Jerry Karlik, for $30 million last week.
The site’s previous owner, Patrick Thompson, bought the property for $20 million in 2010 and planned to build 357 rental units, 17,000 square feet of retail space and a seniors community facility.
Nussbaum said Karlik might consider constructing condos as he believes the market in Flushing has turned to make them more viable than they were five years ago.
“Things have changed in terms of the economy as well as in potential for plans in Flushing,” Nussbaum said. “When Patrick first brought his project, the economy was still down in the dumps. There was little capital around for capital construction. People had to sit around and wait until now.”
Karlik has been in the real estate industry since 1982 and over the last 12 years his companies have been involved in restoring obsolete buildings in Chicago into retail and residential space. In September, JK Equities bought a 120-year-old building in downtown Baltimore with the intention of developing it into 180 rental units and 26,000 square feet of retail space.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) heralded the announcement of the theater’s sale as a positive step.
“I am happy that new developers are in place and we appear to be moving forward. This plan will make downtown Flushing more attractive and transform this eyesore into something the community needs,” Koo said. “We have been promised action at this site before and have been let down in the past, but I am cautiously optimistic that progress can finally be made. I will work with the developers and my community to make sure the needs of all are properly balanced.”
The historic movie theater, which opened in 1928, was closed and sold to notorious developer Thomas Huang in 1986. Huang was convicted of damaging the property and spilling thousands of gallons in the theater’s basement in 1999. He was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
The theater has since has passed through various developers’ hands.
Jerry Rotondi, president of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theatre of Flushing, met the announcement of the theater’s sale with cautious optimism..
“We’ll see what transpires. I’ll believe good when I see it. At this point the community deserves something,” said Rotondi, who has been fighting to restore the theater since the 1980s. “Ideally it would have been nice to have a working performing arts center, but a glass half-full is better than nothing.'
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@