By Alexander Dworkowitz
The Brooklyn company that recently purchased Flushing’s RKO Keith’s Theater has developed an ambitious plan for the site, hoping to transform the building into a 14-story complex of retail, offices and apartments.
Boymelgreen Developers needs a variance in order to develop the dilapidated Keith's, the once fabled building at the end of Main Street on Northern Boulevard.
The plan is so bold that Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman, who saw the proposal at a CB 7 committee meeting last week, said she did not recall a company asking to make such dramatic changes with one variance in her 27 years at the board.
Benjamin Klein, director of operations at Boylmelgreen, said the nature of the location warranted an ambitious plan.
“We feel it should be the spot for something of a world-class design,” he said. “The fact that Main Street terminates right at this spot, it’s begging for something special.”
The fate of the Keith’s, once home to both theater shows and movies, has been closely followed for nearly two decades.
In 1986, Flushing developer Tommy Huang purchased the building, which was built in 1928, shortly after the city landmarked its lobby and grand staircase.
Inspections that year, however, showed damage to the landmarked portions, causing work to halt. The property slowly deteriorated, becoming Flushing’s most notorious eyesore.
In 1999, Huang was convicted of a felony count of ignoring asbestos contamination and spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement. He was sentenced to five years’ probation and a $5,000 fine.
Huang then filed a $39 million lawsuit against the city, saying he was unfairly punished.
Last year the state ended Huang’s probation, and Huang in turn terminated his lawsuit. Huang then sold the property to Boymelgreen. The Brooklyn-based company has promised to incorporate the landmarked areas of the theater into the new building’s design.
If the company gets the requested variance, the structure will look nothing like it does today. Other than the landmarked areas, the existing building would be completely demolished.
According to Boymelgreen’s current plans, the first two floors would be used for retail and the third floor would be made into a food court. The fourth and fifth floors would be offices. The remaining nine stories will be condominiums, with the top floor a penthouse.
The 360,000-square-foot project is expected to cost $70 million to $80 million.
The design also calls for a 60-foot glass curtain over the bottom four stories of the structure.
Both Bitterman and Chuck Apelian, a CB 7 member who was also present at last week's meeting between the board and Boymelgreen, applauded the look of the plan.
“The design is drop-dead gorgeous,” Bitterman said. “It’s going to be a showcase for downtown Flushing. It’s aesthetically very beautiful.”
While the committee was pleased with the design, they questioned its size. The current building has a floor area ratio of 1.7, and Boymelgreen plans to increase that ratio to nine.
Floor area ratio determines how many square feet a property can have relative to the size of its base. For instance, a structure with a 10,000-square-foot base and an FAR of two is allowed to have 20,000 square feet in total.
Boymelgreen’s plans call for three times what is allowed under zoning regulations.
The plan also calls for three levels of underground parking with 250 spaces. Zoning regulations require 400 spots.
While he has faith in Boymelgreen as a company, Apelian is worried that the parking is not adequate for the size of the building.
“My gut just says it’s just too big,” he said. “I think the consensus is — it’s an unofficial consensus — is that it’s just too much.”
Apelian added that he was in favor of approving a variance, just one that calls for a smaller structure.
Klein said his company chose to make the building 14 stories in order to make a profit.
“The size of it was just decided upon to make it a viable project,” he said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.