Op-Ed: What the sale of RKO Keith’s theatre means for northern Flushing

Photo: Matt Kane/Flickr

The iconic RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing has finally sold to a developer with the true intentions to build this mega, mixed-use project. The site sold on July 28 for $66 Million to Xin Development, an arm of China’s Xinyuan Real Estate. We [Cushman & Wakefield] represented the seller, JK Equities and partners.

The site has changed hands quite a few times since the 1980’s. Some of the former owners include Thomas Huang, who eventually plead guilty to felony charges, Shaya Boymelgreen, who purchased the site in 2002 for $15 million, Patrick Thompson who purchased the property in 2010 for $20 million, and lastly JK Equities in 2013 for $30 million who eventually sold to Xinyuan Real Estate.

Although the property may have caused hesitation with most developers due to the bad “feng shui’ and the restrictions on development due to the landmark status of the building, Xinyuan’s Chairman Yong Zhang said that his company is very pleased to be developing their third major project in the New York residential real estate market.

“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,” said Zhang. “Given the location of this project, we expect it will be appealing to both the 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.”

Working in the Flushing market for about a decade I would have to agree with Zhang’s approach. The northern Flushing market, which is located north of Northern Boulevard at the Main Street entrance bound by College Point Boulevard to the west, the Whitestone Expressway to the north, and Parsons Boulevard to the east, has a tremendous amount of untapped potential and a few new developments in the works, including United Construction and Development Group’s mixed-use project at 134-03 35th Avenue, and the potential mega, mixed-use project at Whitestone Lanes. The area has started to gain more and more interest over the past couple years, however we have yet to see a new development break ground of this size and location.

The RKO project is the first mega mixed-use project in this “North of Northern Boulevard” area that is shovel-ready for development. Previous ownership took all of the necessary steps including cleaning the environmental issues, obtaining approved plans, proper permits, and gaining approval for a 421a tax abatement, a rarity in today’s marketplace.

This development is expected to change the landscape of northern Flushing painting us a picture of what this area truly can be. There has been abundant speculation as to what the luxury condo market would yield in this marketplace, but we have yet to see a development of this magnitude come to fruition in this area. It will be interesting to see if the condo sales in this development compare to those of Sky View Parc and Flushing Commons which have been sold, or put under contract, for upwards of $1,000 per square foot.

We expect this long-awaited development site to set the new benchmark in the northern Flushing real estate marketplace. It and will serve as an extremely important component shaping this immediate area’s look and feel.

Stephen R. Preuss is executive director at Cushman & Wakefield.