RKO Keith’s future up in the air again

Condo plans for RKO Keith’s theater in Flushing may be stalled.
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Reconstruction of Flushing’s RKO Keith’s theater may be delayed once again.

The historic theater, located at 135-35 Northern Blvd., was purchased by Xinyuan Real Estate, a China-based real estate developer and property manager, for $66 million in August 2016. Xinyuan, the fifth developer to try to convert the abandoned theater, has plans to build a 16-story condominium with 269 units, while preserving the landmarked grand foyer and ticket lobby. The building will stand at just over 189 feet and the landmarked ticket lobby and grand foyer will be the entry for the condo.

Xinyuan hastwo other major projects in New York City: the real estate company is currently developing a condo in Hell’s Kitchen and wrapped up construction on the heavily anticipated Williamsburg condo called the Oosten project.

In May, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved renovation plans for the theater. The long-awaited project was slated to begin removing the historic material this past June and the demolition of the non-landmarked parts of the surrounding building were set to start in October. But there are reports the project has been stalled and it is not known yet if the April 2020 finish date still stands.

According to a report from The Real Deal, a real estate website, Xinyuan recently dismantled the team running its U.S. development arm, XIN Development. XIN turned over management of three New York City projects to Kuafu Properties, a four-year-old development firm backed by Chinese private equity. Current declines in the condo market are said to affect the reconstruction of RKO Keith’s, the site said. A broker who worked with Xinyuan told Real Deal “the project is stalled and there are landmark issues,”

In November, Forest Hills resident Richard Thornhill created the petition “Save the RKO Keith’s theater in Flushing Queens” on directed at Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Xinyuan Real Estate. The petition quickly met its 2,500 signature goal.

On his petition Thornhill wrote that preserving RKO was important because it is one of two atmospheric theaters left in Queens. He said Xinyuan Real Estate has no plan for public access to the landmarked lobby.

“We are not asking Xinyuan Real Estate to give up the performance space, but understand that a functional restored theater with the character and beauty of a RKO would attract more people to the area and could be a profitable venture,” the petition continued. “So please sign this petition to save the RKO Keith’s Theater before one of our great buildings is gone forever.”

Last week Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration claiming the new condominium planned at the site of the theater is too tall and that developers received approval for it through deceit. In his letter Kim writes that he believes that this is a precarious situation as the site is dangerously close to current flight paths. The maximum height FAA allows is 195 feet above sea level, but according to Kim, this condo will be 210 feet above sea level.

“This is a significant safety hazard for low-flying planes in the neighborhoods of my district, which are located directly between LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International airport,” the assemblyman said. “The proposed building in question will be directly in line with incoming flight paths.”

Thornhill who is cc’d on the letter to the FAA, said he is tired of being misled by developers.

“Since the ‘80s developer after developer has come to the site of the former RKO and broken promises, deceived the people of Queens, and have put the area as well as it’s people in danger,” he said. “I know that the best solution is to restore the theater under the watchful eye of the city so these continuing problems can end once and for all.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Posted 12:00 am, December 22, 2017
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Reader feedback

Flushing from Sophie says:
Too many buildings are going up in flushing that it's strating to look like the city .the only people that will get an apartment in those places are Chinese. After 25 years living in flushing it's time to move out cause I have two kids and there is no diversity around her anymore sorry to say that.
Dec. 24, 2017, 2:11 pm
Stan Goldstein from Flushing says:
Howdy Folks—

There is too much complaining about the proposed RKO redevelopment & not enough (more likely nothing) has been done by the complainers in the past decade or two, to rid Flushing of a derelict eyesore. For too long this once splendid theatre has sat abandoned, and hardly a peep has heard about it in this or any other paper since the wretched malfeasance of a prior owner was brought to light, and subsequently, white washed.

If the proposed building is too high, the noisy, annoying, air polluting, planes taking off from LGA will have to fly 200 ft. higher; or better yet over Flushing Bay or the East River.

The inconvenience, crowding & traffic congestion caused by the proposed building will be minimal compared to the recent building that replaced part of the Municipal parking lot, & destroyed much of an important inner-city transportation facility. I point out that that was a project on CITY PROPERTY & not subject to the whims of market expediency.

Since Flushing has so many workers that must travel to Manhattan, the new building should be for workspace. That would ideally eliminate a lot of people needing to travel twice a day on the badly overcrowded #7 train, but theoretically ideal solutions don't usually work as envisioned.

If the proposed building lacks anything, it is a well thought out mix of nonretail business & dwelling space, as well as adequate parking space & street access.

Happy New Year to all
(who has lived within walking distance of the RKO his entire life)
Dec. 26, 2017, 1:52 pm
Marjorie from Bayside says:
Save the Theater. It's the only thing we have left of Flushing. It will benefit everyone from all walks of life. Let's re-establish and share this magnificent space. It's good Kharma.
Dec. 28, 2017, 2:06 pm
Patricia from Flushing says:
Save the RKO
Feb. 17, 8:28 am

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