Pols OK Elmhurst multiplex

By Michelle Han

The Queens Borough Board voted overwhelmingly Monday to recommend development of the municipal parking lot near the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst as a multiplex movie theater.

The 99,800-square-foot city-owned property is to be sold to the College Point-based Mattone Group for $2.2 million, said Vince Tabone, vice president of real estate development for the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Following the board's 8-1 vote in favor of the plan, Tabone said the city would move forward on the project shortly.

The movie theater, planned atop municipal parking lot 2 just off the Long Island Expressway service road, is one of three proposed theater sites along a three-mile strip.

The nearby Stern's building is being developed as a 14-screen multiplex theater and retail complex by the Brooklyn-based developer Forest City Ratner and the former Georgia Diner site may also be developed as a theater.

“Believe it or not, Queens really is underscreened,” Tabone said.

To track the development of Queens Boulevard in the Elmhurst corridor, the borough president's office formed the Queens Boulevard Retail Working Group two years ago.

City Councilman John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights), a member of the group, praised the Mattone project and said the elimination of the public parking lot should not pose a problem. The proposal calls for a 4,200-seat theater with 600 parking spaces.

“I think this is a good project all in all,” he said. “The parking lot really is a vestige of a bygone time when people used to drive out to Elmhurst, park their cars, and catch a train into the city.”

As part of the multiplex theater project, the nearby Elmwood theater, a long-standing icon of the Elmhurst area, will be developed as an 80-bed assisted living facility by the Catholic Medical Center.

In other business, the Borough Board heard from mayoral aide Robert Grotell, who said the mayor's plan to privatize New York's two airports was proceeding, with four bidders on a contract to handle the privatization.

The four were all European operators, Grotell noted, because no U.S. airport has ever attempted to go through a privatization process. They include the firm that privatized Britain's airports during the Thatcher administration, the operator of Amsterdam's airport, a Berlin-based airport operator, and the operator of Zurich International Airport, Grotell said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, along with New Jersey's Newark airport. Politicians in New York, and in particular Queens, have argued for years that New York does not get its fair share of Port Authority funds for its two operations.

The city is seeking a contract with a private airport operator to take over the airports when the city's Port Authority lease expires in 2015.

Grotell said the firm will be contracted as a consultant from now until 2015 to work with the city on developing a structure for operating the airports privately. After 2015, he said, the firm will take over the airports.

Asked why the city needed to hire a consultant for 15 years, rather than a shorter period, Grotell said the city had no aviation expertise and needs a consultant to be the “eyes and ears” of the city.

“We need to gear up for a process that has never been attempted in this country before,” he said.

Also on Monday, the borough board reviewed capital and expense budget requests to the City Council for fiscal year 2001.

Capital project priorities for fiscal year 2001 include the construction of a pool and ice-skating rink at Flushing-Meadows Corona Park, a $15 million expansion of the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, $3 million for reconstruction of the First Reformed Church in Jamaica, and $4 million for the renovation of PS 1, which is being merged with the Museum of Modern Art.

The board is also asking the council to restore $5.8 million in funds for Queens cultural institutions, $2.6 for youth services, $8.6 million for the Queens Public Library system, and $1 million for Buildings Department inspectors.