Developer awaits approval of Flushing RKO site plan

By Cynthia Koons

Planners from Boymelgreen Development were scheduled to present the latest draft of its proposal for the historic theater, which could house 250 residential units, a senior center and retail space if all governing bodies approve the $100 million project.

“Flushing is on the radar screen with all the elected officials in New York City, and it is a very prominent and dynamic community that the city hopes to make serious commitments and investments in,” project developer William Kim said. “This is really the start. It's the catalyst for that process.”

The development committee of Community Board 7 was scheduled to meet Wednesday night to determine whether to recommend the project to the full board at its meeting Monday night.

Boymelgreen, a Brooklyn-based company, has owned the RKO Keith's property since October 2002 when it bought it from developer Tommy Huang. Under Huang's ownership, the landmarked lobby of the theater fell into ruin. He was later convicted of a felony charge of ignoring asbestos contamination and spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement.

After Huang was fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years of probation, he filed a $39 million lawsuit against the city for unfair punishment.

When the state ended his probation two years ago, he dropped his suit and sold his property to Boymelgreen for $16 million.

Kim said the new building on the property would cost the company more than $100 million to construct.

“It's a real stand-out building that has high costs and high design,” he said. “This building would be seen with tremendous aesthetic value and appreciation, even if it were placed in the middle of Manhattan.”

He estimated the proposed facility would accommodate 250 apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space and a 125,000-square-foot senior center.

CB7 Chairman Gene Kelty said the plans call for a 16- to 17-story building, which meets the criteria set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. In that area of Flushing, buildings cannot exceed 195 feet because of flight arrivals and departures from nearby LaGuardia Airport. The buildings near the RKO Keith's are not high-rises.

“We told them we would fast-track them,” Kelty said of the developer's proposal. “Only they will be the ones (who) could slow it down.”

The RKO Keith's Theater has been dormant since 1986. In a building tour last year, civic leaders saw the once-grandiose lobby covered in graffiti and blanketed in dust.

“The existing condition of the landmark is terrible,” Kim said.

It has taken Boymelgreen a year and a half to devise a proposal for the property, which is surrounded by other buildings and also complicated by a high water line at the ground level.

“Not only do we have a tight parameter about how we can design and develop the building, but it's also a spacing issue,” Kim said. “We have a lot of eyes on this building so we have to make it a beautiful building.”

The proposed construction requires the company to apply for a variance with the community board because Kelty said the design is “excessively bulky.”

In June, when the developers first presented the proposal to CB 7, District Manager Marilyn Bitterman said the company's changes were the most dramatic she had seen in her 27 years on the board.

Kelty said the cost of developing the property is high, and therefore developers must propose a building that could bring them a return.

The lobby requires significant refurbishing, Kelty said, since the stately brass doors and fountain mysteriously disappeared from the theater under Huang's watch.

Boymelgreen Developers said the lobby will be the centerpiece of the first-floor retail component of the plan.

Kim said he hopes the city Board of Standards and Appeals will approve the developer's plans late this spring.

“Dependent on how sympathetic they are with the economic circumstances and the challenges in what we can build here, we'll see whether we can move forward with the building,” Kim said.

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

More from Around New York