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RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing up for sale again

By Madina Toure

Community and civic leaders, along with elected officials were concerned by the news that the decaying RKO Keith’s Theater site—known as the “gateway to Flushing”—is up for sale again after Community Board 7 approved the latest plan in March.

The current developer, Jerry Karlik, the head of JK Equities and a former Flushing resident who attended the theater as a teenager, recently announced that the site at 135-35 Northern Blvd. is now back on the market.

Karlik could not be reached for comment.

It was unclear why the property at the foot of Main Street is up for sale again.

The developer changed the original proposal 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 roughly 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, which the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority approved, along with changes to the design of the entry facing Main Street.

CB 7 board members unanimously passed a motion to approve the developer’s revised plan for the theater.

CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said the only people getting richer are the people buying the property and that Karlik did not inform him that the site was up for sale.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult to deal with the next guy (developer),” Kelty said.

Simon Gerson, president of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said the site needs a developer who is genuinely interested in developing it.

“We look forward to working with a real developer to transform a major eyesore into a neighborhood asset that brings people together,” Gerson said.

The dilapidated building, which was a renowned movie palace, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater’s ticket lobby and grand foyer were landmarked by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Since its closure in 1986, the property has remained derelict, with a succession of developers who have bought and then sold the property. Karlik bought the theater for $30 million from Patrick Thompson.

One of the developers, the notorious Thomas Huang, pleaded guilty to damaging the landmarked interior of the theater because he let oil pour into the basement in 1999 and was sentenced to five years’ probation by the attorney general’s office.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said she has attended many presentations before CB 7 and that the property keeps getting abandoned.

“I’ve met with lots and lots of people who purchased it and each one promised everything and nothing ever happened,” Stavisky said.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) also condemned the continuously poor treatment of the property.

“The community deserves a building that respects the interior landmark status and historical significance of this long-neglected property,” Koo said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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