By Connor Adams Sheets
The $160 million proposal to revamp the crumbling RKO Keith’s Theatre in downtown Flushing has hit an unexpected obstacle that could threaten its ability to break ground by the end of the year, as is currently planned.
But the project’s developer, Patrick Thompson, said the issue is merely procedural and that the project will be cleared to move forward in short order.
Thompson, who in July received final approval for the project from the city Board of Standards and Appeals, plans to construct a 17-floor, mixed-use residential building over the theater that will restore and maintain the beloved cinema’s landmarked lobby.
But the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday that it never approved the building, and that if the administration takes issue with the building’s height or close proximity to LaGuardia Airport, it could be back to the drawing board for Thompson.
“That particular project, there has been an application made to the FAA and we’re waiting for some additional information from [Thompson] before we can do the analysis,” FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said. “When we do get the additional information that we need, we’ll do a study … We work with them because we want to be able to help them do the project, but our primary concern is aviation safety. It’s not unusual to go back and forth with the sponsor to help them find a way to move forward.”
If the FAA study says the building as proposed would pose risks to aircraft, it may require Thompson to change its height, which could mean going through the lengthy public approval process a second time, leaving the eyesore site at 137-25 Northern Blvd. empty for even longer.
But Thompson said he believes the approval will be granted without issue because the current project’s height and position had already been approved under a previous redevelopment proposal by developer Shaya Boymelgreen.
“Final approval was given [to Boymelgreen] and it just has to be renewed. The prior FAA approval applies because I didn’t touch height, bulk or position,” Thompson said Tuesday. “We submitted our paperwork a while ago and it’s purely a paperwork process right now.”
The 2005 proposal by Boymelgreen, which CB 7 approved, fell through when Boymelgreen’s finances faltered, and in May 2010 Thompson bought the note on the property from Doral Bank for $20 million. Thompson made no changes to the planned exterior of the building, so he and Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty and CB 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman believe the FAA will allow its previous ruling to stand.
Kelty voted against the project when it came before the board in February, but he said Monday the FAA should not have a problem with the current plan.
“Patrick Thompson only changed the interior of the building, not the height of the building,” Kelty said. “If Boymelgreen had the approval, the height of the building was not changed by Thompson, so he shouldn’t have to get FAA approval again.”
Bitterman agreed with Kelty, reiterating the fact that Thompson did not change the size or exterior of the building, and went on to quote from Boymelgreen’s BSA application.
“Whereas the applicant has obtained approval for the height of the building from both the FAA and the Port Authority.’ That’s in the paperwork from the original BSA application that was approved in 2005,” Bitterman said Monday.
Thompson plans to dedicate $8 million to fix the theatre’s decadent lobby and create a two-story, green, undulating glass curtain to display the renovated interior to people walking by. The lobby would be the gateway to a tower with 357 residential units, a senior center, 385 parking spaces and more than 12,000 square feet of retail.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.