Shifting Gears on RKO Theater Project

After three failed attempts to redevelop the historic RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing, plans have surfaced once again, which look to convert the dilapidated venue into luxury condominiums, while preserving the landmarked ticket booth and front lobby.

This week, members of Community Board 7 held a public hearing to discuss proposed modifications to plans approved by the Board of Standards and Appeals in 2005. The plan would construct a 17-story mixed-use structure with 357 rental apartment units and retail space at 135-35 Northern Blvd.
“After 10 years working on this project… I think we’re finally close to starting on construction,” the applicant’s attorney Howard Goldman, said.

Artist’s rendering of the proposed redevelopment of the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing. Photo Courtesy of PEI, Cobb, Freed & Partners, LLC.

Originally appeared in the Queens Tribune on March 26, 2015.

Developers now propose to amend the BSA application, which would increase the height of the project by 15-feet, reduce the number of residential units to allow 269 market-rate condominiums, reduce the total number of parking spaces and change the façade along Northern Boulevard.

“This is the last piece of the puzzle,” developer Jerry Karlik said. “We’re ready to break ground as soon as we get approval.”
According to Karlik, the proposed condominium units will range from 500 to 1,600 sq. ft., with the average cost going for anywhere between $400,000 to approximately $2 million for the penthouse.
Based on renderings from the architectural firm PEI, Cobb, Freed and Partners, the amended proposal also includes the installation of an indoor parking carousel – a ferris wheel-like parking mechanism – with a separate entrance along Northern Boulevard and exit on Farrington Street.

Yet, despite support from members of CB7, several residents got up to voice concerns with the proposal.
“In 2003, the Port Authority objected to a height of 195 feet,” said resident Christian Kellberg, “now it is even taller.”

According to Chuck Apelian, chair of CB7’s landmark preservation committee, both the Federal Aviation Administration and Port Authority of New York-New Jersey issued a “determination of no hazard to air navigation,” adding that they found it would have no impact to the nearby LaGuardia Airport.

Michael Donnelly, a representative with the New York City Carpenters Union, said that since the proposal states no commitments to union labor, the union is requesting that Borough President Melinda Katz and the BSA deny the amended application. In order for construction to begin, both would need to approve the proposed modifications.

After some additional comments from the public, members of CB7 voted unanimously in favor of the amended proposal, which developers said would take 30 to 36 months to complete, if approved. With added support from CB7, the proposed changes have been placed on the special orders calendar to await the final decision of the BSA.

“As soon as we get approval, we’re going to demolish the surrounding theatre,” Karlik said.
In addition to the proposed modifications, members of CB7 issued an advisory opinion to the BSA, which suggests it either revert 16,000 sq. ft. of space designated for a senior center to a community use facility or use the space for additional residential units.

“We’d rather see residential,” Warren Schreiber, third vice chair of CB7, said. “Right now we’re setting aside space for a senior center that does not exist.”

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