Tommy Huang, the controversial developer from Flushing, has been in the news for more than three decades — known for building and damaging properties throughout Queens and probably more than anything, destroying the RKO Keith’s Theatre.
Although Huang made several attempts to ruin the Keith’s, it was a longstanding oil leak for which he was criminally charged in 1997.
Huang emigrated from Taiwan in 1969 with his wife, Alice Liu, a daughter of the wealthy owner of Taiwan’s Haw di-I Foods and Bull Head Barbecue Sauce. He broke ground in Flushing in 1979 on a five-family house.
The developer went on to construct high-rises around Queens Boulevard and five others in Flushing. He was first applauded for helping to rebuild Flushing, but controversy soon erupted.
In 1982, Huang wanted to buy a site off Main Street to build a 16-story condominium. After a bank refused to sell it to him, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a restaurant there, destroying several properties. Soon after, Huang increased his bid on the location and the property was sold. He said he did not know anything about the bomb.
Huang bought the RKO Keith’s Theatre on Northern Boulevard in Flushing in 1986 for $3.4 million with hopes of turning it into a mini-mall, but he was thwarted by the city, which had partially landmarked the theater. Many rallied to keep the theater but Huang refused to budge from his plans. The city issued a stop-work order after he partially bulldozed the staircase. In 1990, a fire was set inside the locked theater, but no charges were filed.
In 1996, city inspectors found heating oil emanating from two 12,500-gallon tanks in the theater. A year later, he was arrested for endangering public health by letting more than 200 gallons of petroleum leach from the basement furnace and lying about cleaning it up. Huang pleaded guilty to state environmental charges in 1999 and was sentenced to five years’ probation.
The theater still remains vacant, though Huang eventually sold the property.
In 2002, the Department of Buildings made Huang file for a variance after he bought property in Bayside to develop. Lawsuits were filed because of unsafe conditions and damage to adjacent property. The houses remain empty.
Huang and his wife were banned from selling condos in Queens in 1999 after failing to pay $325,000 in common charges on unsold apartments at the Flushing Tower Condominium.
In 2011, a Huang construction worker was killed on an Elmhurst project. The developer was later fined for safety violations.
Last June, Huang and his wife pleaded guilty to developing and selling units in the Broadway Towers condos in Elmhurst with their son, Harry. They were sentenced to pay $3.3 million that came from illegal profits and $1.5 million in penalties. They are banned from construction and real estate for at least five years.