BY JAMES FARRELL
Plans to redevelop the site of the historic RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing are “progressing according to plan,” according to the property owner and developer, Xinyuan Real Estate.
“The company is in the selection process for the general contractor and expects to begin construction on this property in the first half of 2017,” a statement from Xinyuan, which is based in China, read. “The land allows for a mixed-use development comprising approximately 372,598 gross buildable square feet with approved plans.”
When Xinyuan purchased the property, located at 135-35 Northern Blvd. in Flushing, in August 2016, plans for a mixed-use development had already been approved by Community Board 7 in 2015. Those plans were put together under supervision of the property’s former owner, Jerry Karlik, of JK Equities, and were designed by architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed. The development calls for 269 condos, a 24-hour doorman, gym, tenant lounge, 305 space parking garage, landscaped courtyard, and ground-floor and second-floor retail space.
The plans also preserve the RKO Keith’s landmarked interior lobby. As the Queens Tribune has reported, the RKO Keith’s had a proud history as a “movie palace,” or large theatre with an ornate architectural design that housed both motion pictures and vaudeville productions. In addition to its grand lobby, the theatre housed an auditorium that seated around 3,000 people and saw perfor-mances from stars, including Judy Garland and the Marx Brothers, since its opening in 1928.
In recent years, the site has been at the center of a battle among various developers and preservationists, who have fought for the theatre’s revival—some arguing it should be restored as a performance-arts theatre as opposed to being redeveloped.
In the 1980s, a group known as the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theatre of Flushing fought to preserve the theatre, especially in the wake of former owner Tommy Huang’s purchase of the property after the theatre closed in 1986. Huang had planned to build a movie complex, shopping mall and hotel, but after destroying part of the landmarked grand staircase and facing several fines and five years’ probation for allowing 10,000 gallons of heating oil to leak into the building, he faced blowback and ultimately sold the property.
Since then, the property has been the subject of stalled developments under multiple owners and has become dilapidated as it sits unused.
In August, the Queens Tribune reported that the previous owner, Jerry Karlik, had discussed the landmarked status with Xinyuan after selling the “shovel ready” property to the developers for $66 million.
“The plan that we had is going to be very much adhered to by the buyer,” Karlik said at the time. “They’re very conscious of [the landmark status].”
Xinyuan acknowledged the status and apparent adherence to Karlik’s development plans in its most recent statement.
“The property was formerly a performance theater with a landmarked interior known as RKO Keith’s Theater,” the statement read.
“Designs for the buildable development have been prepared by the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.