Despite denials from the owner, community leaders in Flushing say the beleaguered RKO Keith’s Theatre is once again on the market and it’s listed with a realtor online.
Rumors were swirling in the community last week that the partially landmarked 1928 movie palace that has been vacant since 1987 was being sold by Manhattan developer Patrick Thompson. He purchased the property, slated for development as an apartment building at 135-35 Northern Blvd. in 2010 for $20 million.
Most people interviewed for this article did not want their names used, but are in a position to know what is going on. They said that Thompson is selling the derelict building for $30 million.
Reached Friday, Thompson denied the story. “Plans are going forward and we are still finalizing the finances,” the developer said. “Hopefully, work can begin later this year.”
But a listing for the property was on the website of Newmark Knight Frank, a commercial broker. Ken Zaskin, who is listed as the Newmark agent, said Monday only that his firm is not the exclusive broker and referred the Chronicle to Thompson.
Thompson reiterated that the property is not for sale. “I don’t care what it says on their website,” he said.
Jerry Rotondi, acting president of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s of Flushing, was not aware of the sale, but is not surprised. “He [Thompson] got additional approvals for the plan and is probably trying to flip it,” Rotondi said. “I know they were looking for investors.”
Rotondi was referring to Thompson getting the Board of Standards and Appeals to amend a 2005 variance to increase the number of apartment units for a total of 357 and to add underground parking spaces from 229 to 360 and boost retail space.
The project — which went through the lengthy and expensive land use review process — must be adhered to by any future owner and calls for restoration of the landmarked theater lobby and retention of the ticket booth. The plan also calls for a glass curtain facade.
Thompson bought the property from Shaya Boymelgreen, a Brooklyn developer, who got the original 2005 variance to erect a 17-story building over the lobby area for housing, a senior center and retail shops — but then ran out of money.
The Brooklyn developer had purchased the building from Tommy Huang, who closed the movie palace in 1987 and wanted to convert it into a shopping mall. When his plans were thwarted by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Huang sat on the property and allowed it to deteriorate over the years and partially bulldozed one of the staircases.
After a lengthy investigation and trial, Huang was found guilty of environmental crimes in 1999 for letting a basement oil spill at the Keith’s go undetected for years and was given a $5,000 fine.
Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District, echoed the sentiment of many area leaders who are disappointed in what’s happening at the Keith’s. “This is a very sad situation,” Yu said. “We saw some light at the end of the tunnel and now we’re right back to where we were.”
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said the Keith’s is not an easy project to do and the city should give the developer incentives. “Give them a tax break,” Koo said. “The city needs to be proactive.”
He also noted that the market is still difficult for such a project, which has been estimated to cost $160 million.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said she is frustrated and disheartened by lack of action at the former theater. Area city and state elected officials have been trying to get action on the neglected site for 24 years.
The 1928 movie palace was designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb. Its distinct Mexican baroque style featured a large fountain in the center of the lobby and was a major anchor in downtown Flushing. Several Flushing High School graduation ceremonies were held there.