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Kenn Lowy says landlord Tom Caruana is playing the field and hopes he will make another redevelopment bid

Sell-uloid! Brooklyn Heights Cinema up for sale

The Brooklyn Paper
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The building that houses the Brooklyn Heights Cinema has hit the market, but the theater’s owner says he will do whatever it takes to keep the projectors humming.

The tiny Henry Street movie house has seen its share of closure scares over the past two years as its landlord has pitched multiple plans to build an apartment building on the spot. The cinema is wearing this latest threat to its existence on its sleeve.

“The worst part of it is that there’s a sign out there saying ‘For Sale or Lease,’ ” said Kenn Lowy, the theater’s current owner who helped save the fledgling operation three years ago. “It makes people in the neighborhood nervous.”

Lowy’s landlord, Tom Caruana, has been trying to replace the low-slung theater with a five-story residential building since 2012, but city preservationists shot down his design not once, but twice.

The building between Orange and Cranberry streets is not landmarked, but sits in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, which means that plans to demolish the building have to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Lowy thinks that Caruana is putting the building up for sale as a way of keeping his options open.

“I would be very surprised if he doesn’t go back with a third plan,” said Lowy about his landlord. “He wants it to go through, he’s just really frustrated.”

The property’s broker, which is asking $7.5 million for the property, agrees with that assessment.

“He’s exploring his options,” said Massey Knakal agent Stephen Palmese of the landlord.

“The owner isn’t a developer per se,” Palmese said. “There’s a big risk trying to build on your own.”

Under current zoning, a new building would have to be residential with a retail storefront. A new buyer would have the same bureaucratic hurdles to clear as Cuarana.

If someone else does take over the building, or the lease, Lowy said the theater will probably have to relocate. His lease is currently month-to-month and he could not afford the $30,000 per month that is being advertised by the broker now.

“Our rent right now is considerably less,” said Lowy. “And we recognize that it’s a really good deal.”

But if Caruana can get his plans approved, the theater might be able to keep a place they can afford, moving temporarily during construction, and returning once the new building is finished.

For now, though, Lowy has other concerns — namely keeping flicks playing in the current space.

The two-screen cinema opened in 1970 and depended on film projectors until the end of last year, when a shortage of new releases on celluloid meant they had to rent a digital projector to keep the picture show going.

“If we didn’t do that, one of our screens would be dark,” Lowy said.

He is now looking to buy his own digital projector, which he could move to any future home of his popcorn palace. He has raised half the $60,000 he needs and plans to start an online fund-raiser to come up with the rest, he said.

“If we don’t raise the money by March we’re in trouble,” said Lowy. “They’re going to come and take out the projector.”

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260-8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Asking price added.
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