After decades of decay, RKO Keith’s Theatre may soon be majestic once again.
With an “aggressive” projected completion date of January 2023, owner Xinyun Real Estate Company hopes to erect a residential and commercial edifice after partially demolishing the decrepit theater while still preserving the landmarked lobby and its artifacts.
Gerner Kronick and Valcarcel Architects, DPC has taken over the design aspect of the project, throwing out a previous 2017 design from Pei Cobb Freed and Partners.
“[Ours] is a very different design, almost to the same way it was before,” said Lauren George of Constantinople & Vallone Consulting, LL. “Our design is a nod to the theater’s past use.”
The previous design was limited to apartment units, and while Gerner Kronick and Valcarcel plan to include condos in the layout, it also plans to include a hotel and restaurant as well as commercial units on the lower level. The original lobby and grand foyer, which received landmark status in 1984, will be preserved and remain open to the public. A courtyard to relieve pedestrian congestion is also in the works.
“Downtown Flushing is a super vibrant area already,” said George. “A mixed-use structure is appropriate for the area. Our designs are a different perception of what this area needs.”
The architects are still in the process of completing the designs, which have not been revealed to the public yet and the details of which are still subject to further change — once the application is submitted in March, the Board of Standards and Appeals may supply feedback or make suggestions.
“The biggest part that’s the most exciting is the reconstruction of the lower facade,” said George, referring to the grand entrance that once displayed big names like Judy Garland and the Marx Brothers.
The architects, owner and developers have been communicating with Community Board 7 throughout the process to gain feedback and approval.
Reconstruction changes, including design, have pushed back the demolition date that was scheduled for February until sometime in March, which will topple the deteriorating parts of the building. The landmarked interior, including the lobby and grand foyer, will remain safe from the bulldozers, and their artifacts have been off-site since 2019, where they are being treated and restored by EverGreen Architectural Arts for their expected 2020 return.
“This project has been much more extensive than anyone could imagine it would be. It’s rare that a building has only an interior landmark,” George said.
“The process has been an ongoing nightmare that you can never ever awake,” said state Sen. John Liu (D-Flushing), “To see it lay decrepit on Main Street for so many decades, it’s an unimaginable agony.”
Liu has seen a myriad of potential developers of the site come and go over the years, and said that he will support the newest proposal as long as it honors the theater’s history and includes a space designated for a senior center, a requirement he placed on the property during his time as a city councilman. Constantinople & Vallone Consulting could not be reached to confirm if a senior center is included in the plans.
“In many ways the RKO defines Flushing, so rather than just [resurrecting] another building, I think it’s important to retain as much history as possible,” said Liu. “If this is finally the holy grail of proposals that will finally get this site reclaimed from the dead then I will support it as long as the landmark status is completely upheld.”