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RKO Grief

TimesLedger Newspapers

The RKO Keith’s Theatre was once the pride of Flushing.

The theater opened on Christmas Day 1928. In 1986, after nearly 60 years of showing movies, it was closed and the property was sold.

The building was purchased by developer Tommy Huang. With no respect for the role the theater played in Flushing history, in the dark of night he gutted the landmarked lobby of RKO Keith’s so he could tear the building down. He was caught before the demolition was complete and was eventually forced to forfeit the building.

Since the theater closed, more than a quarter century has passed and the boarded-up building is now nothing but an eyesore bringing down the entire neighborhood on the northern border of downtown Flushing.

Developer Patrick Thompson now owns RKO Keith’s and he plans to restore the theater’s lobby and incorporate it into a 17-story tower with stores and apartments.

Last year, Thompson’s plans were challenged when activists argued that the tallest building in the area would endanger planes attempting to land at LaGuardia Airport. Thompson negotiated with the Federal Aviation Administration and got its approval. Construction was supposed to begin this year.

But now the future of this building appears uncertain once again in the face of another FAA challenge.

As we reported last week, Thompson owes the city nearly $400,000 in unpaid taxes and faces a possible tax lien from the city. Unless he is able to negotiate a repayment plan, the city could sell that lien in May and put it up for sale.

Thompson says he has enough money to begin construction and will be able to resolve the tax problem on time. But in a “confidential memorandum” obtained by TimesLedger Newspapers, Thompson solicits developers to buy the property outright or enter into a joint partnership.

The memorandum goes on to say, “As of July 20, 2011, this is available for sale or a joint venture equity partnership.”

While much of Flushing has been flourishing, the area around the RKO has been in lockdown. For the sake of the neighbors of RKO Keith’s, the city Economic Development Corp. should do everything possible to expedite the property’s development.

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