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Hurry Up and Wait

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Hurry Up and Wait

The bureaucratic bumbling that has delayed the redevelopment of the property that was once the RKO Keith’s Theatre is beyond maddening.

Finally, it looked like the red tape and bureaucratic nonsense was over and the $160 million overhaul of the theater could begin. The building’s owner was certain he had acquired the approvals needed to begin work. Then out of the blue, the Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter raising new concerns.

The letter delivered to the building’s owner, Manhattan developer Patrick Thompson, has raised the possibility that the developer might have to go back to the drawing board and trim the height of the building that will surround the theater by more than 40 feet.

The FAA expressed concern that the rebuilt theater, the tallest building this close to LaGuardia Airport, “exceeds obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities …. Pending resolution of the issues described below, the structure is presumed to be a hazard to air navigation.”

The FAA claims the building, which will rise 162 feet above ground level and is approximately 7,000 feet from a runaway, could pose a risk to aircraft.

No one wants to see anything built that could endanger air traffic, but we cannot understand why it took this long for the FAA to raise this concern. If the developer concludes that cutting 40 feet off will make the building unprofitable, RKO Keith’s will be back to square one.

The theater with its landmarked interior was once the pride of Flushing, but since it closed 25 years ago it has become an eyesore and brought down property values in the area.

According to Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty, between 2003 and 2005 the FAA gave a green light to the previous owner to build a structure that would have been the same height.

Enough nonsense. The building as planned will be a shot in the arm for downtown Flushing and will preserve this theater for generations. The construction alone will create hundreds of jobs.

We urge the mayor to make some calls to Washington and put an end to the delays so this building can get off the ground.

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Jerry Rotondi, acting president Committee to Sav from Flushing says:
We would like to clarify any misinformation that might be circulating concerning the RKO Keith's theater site.

#1.
The theater will not be refurbished or restored

#2.
Only the landmark portion, which consists solely of its ticket lobby and grand foyer, is slated to be restored to its original 1928 condition.

#3.
These remnants will be included or encased within a new building, while the ruinous auditorium, etc. will be demolished.

Has the former Keith's theater been an "eyesore" for decades?

Unfortunately, yes!

Yet, exactly who bears the prime responsibility for this---all must decide for themselves.

We will share with you a brief historical note---having been active in the efforts to preserve this former wonder since 1981:

In 1986, then borough president, Claire Shulman refused to support landmark status for the entire interior of this theater which would have protected it from the wrath of convicted criminal developer Tommy Huang.

Thus, did not Shulman (in effect) become Huang's enabler---as he destroyed much of the Keith's glorious interior?

When the Keith's second owner, Shya Boymelgreen, presented his plans to Community Board 7---
it took an inordinate amount of time for them to grant him their approval of his project.

I was present at all of those meetings. There were, indeed, a lot of legitimate problems that had to be ironed out---accounting for the delay.

But, could the lengthy process have been streamlined a bit---resulting in an earlier rebirth of the Keith's currently deteriorating grand foyer and ticket lobby?

We cannot say.

Shortly after CB 7's approval---Boymelgreen ran into severe financial difficulties and Patrick Thompson bought the property---becoming the 3rd owner of record.

The physical height of Thompson's currently proposed building does not exceed Boymelgreen's previous project--- which the FAA had approved.

We're as mystified as many of you appear to be.
What has changed between the two projects?

The Flushing community is still being held hostage in a very long and sordid scenario.

We all long for something good to emerge from this tragedy---and someday soon we hope.

Until that day comes, however, this continues to be the longest running "show" in town!
Oct. 14, 2011, 8:52 am

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