New plan for RKO Keith’s Theater approved by CB 7

By Madina Toure

The long-delayed plans for RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing have been approved by Community Board 7 after years of the property passing through the hands of multiple developers.

Board members unanimously passed a motion at the monthly board meeting Monday night approving developer JK Equities’ revised plan for the historic theater at 135-35 Northern Blvd. in Flushing. The company’s reworked blueprint increased the building’s height and reduced the number of rental units and parking spaces.

Chuck Apelian, CB 7’s first vice chairman and chairman of the land use committee, said the board has previously asked for a movie theater to be built in downtown Flushing, but to no avail. “We don’t have any development plans in front of us,” Apelian said. “I don’t have anybody standing here with the money to build the theater. The way it’s gone, it went from developer to developer to developer at this point. I can’t change that.”

He was momentarily interrupted by Jerry Rotundi, a member of the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing, who insisted that plans were presented to save the theater.

Jerry Karlik, the head of JK Equities and a former Flushing resident who attended the theater as a teenager, said the project is moving along.

Karlik and the other principal owners of Flushing Square Realty, which owns the property, hired historic landmark consultants to renovate and restore the landmarked interior.

“We are really very, very close to building the site,” Karlik said. “I’d say we’re within a couple of months of receiving our approvals for the third round of objections with DOB. It’s only a few things that are left.”

The developer revised the original plan approved by the city Board of Standards and Appeals to decrease the number of dwelling units from 357 to 269 and the number of residential parking spaces from 385 to 323, allowing a one-to-one ratio between rental units and parking spaces.

The plan also increased the building’s height from 174-foot-11-inches to 190 feet, with approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority, and changes to the design of the entry facing Main Street.

The parking will operate through a combination system using a carousel system and stackers. The building is also designed to surpass the requirements of the New York City Energy Code.

Ian Bader, a partner for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the project’s architect, said the guidance and advice from the land use committee enabled them to improve the project.

“They’ve provided all kinds of interesting observations,” Bader said. “I believe that the project is stronger and better understood because of the insights they have offered us.”

Board members noted the quality of the architects’ presentation. Board member Pablo Hernandez said the site is in poor condition and that he supports the plan.

“I am very happy to see that this developer came so far compared to everybody else,” Hernandez said.

Historic preservationists were staunchly opposed to the plan. In a statement, the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s criticized former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman for not supporting the theater.

“We could have had a restored showcase theater,” said Cheshire Frager, a member of the committee.

Michael Donnelly, a New York City District Council of Carpenters representative, said the developer has not made a commitment to quality construction jobs.

“These units will now be marketed to wealthier individuals and contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood,” Donnelly said. “The absence of a commitment in the development of high-quality construction jobs for the members of the community further enforces this impression.”

Apelian introduced a separate resolution that would consider converting the planned 16,000-square-foot space from a senior center into community facility space.

Vacant for more than 20 years, the theater has been taken over by numerous developers, including the notorious Thomas Huang. Karlik bought the theater for $30 million from Patrick Thompson, who could no longer develop the property because of financial issues.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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