The owner of the historic Brooklyn Heights Cinemas is passing the hat and eyeing a move to keep his theater running in the midst of a redevelopment scheme that would add apartments upstairs — potentially demolishing it in the process.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is pushing the Henry Street building’s owner to come up with a design that would keep the existing two-screen cinema building intact, but owner Kenn Lowy said there is no guarantee he and his projectors will not be put out on the street, and so he is reaching out to neighbors to help fund a temporary exile.
“The idea was always to find a temporary location until it was finished,” Lowy said. “We’ll have an 18-month period where we’ll have to find another space until we come back.”
The film buff and 32-year Heights resident said he needs $20,000 to fund the move, which could come next spring or summer, and a sorely-needed upgrade to digital projectors that would be a first for the strictly celluloid picture house on the corner of Orange Street. Adding insult to antiquated injury, the temporary move would require him to lease, not buy, the gear, and no Brooklyn Heights building could accommodate the business, meaning the neighborhood-specific site of many a date night might shift to Dumbo, the nearest place with workable digs.
“If we want to stay in business we have to do that,” Lowy said, adding that he plans to drum up the money through an online crowd-funding website.
The solicitation will come on the heels of a dizzying series of plot twists that began for Lowy in 2010 when he read in this paper that the theater’s then-owner was indicted for bilking investors out of money by pretending to have plans to expand and build condos atop the theater along with two others in Pennsylvania.
“I asked the manager ‘What’s going on?’ and she half-jokingly said, ‘You want to buy it?’ ” Lowy said.
Turns out, he did.
The movie hall first opened in 1971 and was down in the dumps by the 1990s, when its owners began to have trouble getting titles from distributors.
Delphi Basilicato and Jai Singh owned the theater for eight years, but sold it in 2001 facing big-time competition from Fort Greene’s BAM Rose Cinemas and the 12-screen Regal Cinema on Court Street, and having failed to raise $60,000 for renovations and new equipment. Following that came Norman Adie and his wife Kasey Gittleman and, after a decade, Adie’s indictment on charges that he raised $530,000 in investor money meant to expand the 150-seat theater and build condos atop it when he had no intention of ever doing so.
When Lowy bought the theater, there was only one year left on the lease, and no guarantee that he would be able to run it for longer than that, he said.
But because the theater was within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, any changes to the building had to go through the city’s preservationists and they, along with support from the neighborhood, kept the theater alive through an earlier plan of landlord Tom Caruana’s that called for razing the building to make way for apartments — and not inviting the theater back. Lowy says he is surprised he has made it this far.
“The lease actually expired a year and a half ago,” he said. “If you had talked to me one year ago I would have said ‘Gee, I really hope I can get through the holidays this year.’ ”
The movie lover is also a musician and sits on the local community board, where he is now in the strange position of supporting the demolition of his own place of work, so long as it is temporary, over the objection of the same agency that saved his skin once before.