Work has begun on the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing to shore up and protect the landmarked areas of the former movie palace.
Jerry Karlik, who heads JK Equities, the developer who bought the site last December, told the Chronicle on Monday that he had been cleared by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of Buildings to obtain a permit for “soft demolition.”
Karlik said the permit allows his firm to clean up the landmarked theater lobby and ticket booth, which is expected to cost more than $6 million alone to restore. “It will help protect and secure it,” he said. “The light demo refers to removing the construction shed and adding a temporary roof for protection.”
The damaged Northern Boulevard property has changed hands several times over the last few years. It was first purchased by developer Thomas Huang in 1987. He closed the now-86-year-old theater and tried to convert it into a shopping mall.
When his plans were foiled by the LPC, Huang sat on the property, refusing to improve it and allowing it to deteriorate over the years. He partially destroyed the twin sweeping staircases in the lobby and in 1999 was found guilty of environmental crimes there for allowing a basement oil spill to go undetected.
Huang eventually sold the site in 2002 to Shaya Boymelgreen, whose plans were approved by the city, but he ran out of money. The theater then went to Patrick Thompson, who sold it to Karlik for $30 million.
The latest developer reiterated that he will stick to the city-approved plan: 357 apartments, 27,000 square feet of retail space and a senior center. The building will be 17 stories tall and feature 385 underground parking spots and an undulating glass curtain entrance.
Karlik confirmed that the units will be condominiums, not rental apartments, and hopes to break ground by next year. “The sooner the better,” he added. “We want to capitalize on the market.”
The developer noted that he grew up in Flushing and he and his future wife went on dates at the Keith’s Theatre.
Karlik now livers in Roslyn and his office is in Port Washington. He said his firm has had much experience in rehabilitating landmarked structures including the Rocket Building in Jersey City, two in Chicago and one in the works in Baltimore.