By Gina Martinez
The RKO Keith’s Theater at the gateway to Main Street in downtown Flushing will be transformed into a condo — or so say the latest developers with a plan to rescue the blighted landmark.
The theater was purchased by Xinyuan Real Estate, a China-based real estate developer and property manager. Xinyuan acquired the derelict building located at 135-35 Northern Blvd. for $66 million and plans to build a 269-unit residential building. Xinyuan will be the fifth developer to try to convert the abandoned theater.
Chuck Apelian, vice chairman of Community Board 7, which oversees projects in Flushing, welcomed news of a new developer as long as the theater’s landmarked lobby is preserved.
“We hope that they build what was approved and we’re excited to get going.” he said. “We hope that they’ll reach out to the board and cooperate. We’re very hopeful that it’s going to happen and happen soon.
RKO Keith’s Theater opened on Christmas day 1928. In its heyday the theater hosted performances by mega stars Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Jerry Lewis. In 1984 the theater’s lobby and staircase were designated landmarks by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The theater was closed down in 1986 and since then its fate has been in limbo.
The first developer to acquire RKO was also the most notorious. In 1986 Thomas Huang purchased the theater for $3.4 million. Huang made plans to transform the theater into a mega mall combined with condos. A series of problems followed, including an arson case in 1990 that was never solved. Huang was accused of destroying historic parts of the theater and in 1997 he pleaded guilty to letting 10,000 gallons of heating oil spill into the basement of the theater. He served five years probation and paid a $5,000 fine.
Following Huang were a series of developers whose plans never got off the ground. In 2002 developer Shaya Boymelgren bought the building from Huang for $15 million but lost it to foreclosure. Patrick Thompson then bought the theater in 2010 for $20 million and planned to build a Condo but sold it to JK Equities, which put the theater up for sale in February after purchasing RKO Keith’s for $30 million in 2013.
Xinyuan, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is the latest developer to take up the challenge and the most promising yet. This is the third New York project for Xinyuan, which is currently developing a condo in Hells Kitchen and wrapping up the construction of an anticipated condo in Wiliamsburg called the Oosten project. The Oosten project is expected to be finished by the end of the year, when Xinyuan anticipates it will begin on the Flushing project.
“We are very pleased to be developing our third major project in the New York residential real estate market.” said Yong Zhang, Xinyuan’s chairman, . “The location for this project in downtown Flushing is ideally situated particularly as there is a shortage of inventory in the higher-end condominium segment. Given the location of this project, we expect it will be appealing to both local and foreign buyers and investors. We believe our new project will become a unique site in downtown Flushing and a successful project for our company.”
Apelian has met and worked with the recent prospective developers of the RKO Keith’s
“I’ve been here 13 years and I’ve seen all the changes and everyone promises things and nothing happens, Maybe this time will be different,” Apelian said. “We’re excited someone has intent to build and to build what was approved by the board. We’d love to meet them and welcome them to the community and hopefully they build a beautiful project.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart