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Kings Theatre restoration finally gets underway

The ‘Kings’ is coming back! Really!

Brooklyn Daily

At long last, Brooklyn will once again have a theater fit for Kings.

The restoration of the historic Loew’s Kings Theatre in Flatbush finally kicked off Jan. 23 when Mayor Bloomberg and Borough President Markowitz broke ground on a $94-million rehabilitation to return the breathtaking movie palace to its former glory.

“The new Kings Theatre will preserve much of the character and history of this iconic building and expand on that rich legacy as well,” said Bloomberg.

The 68,000-square-foot theater, built to regale pre-Depression audiences of 3,200, will expand by 25,000 square feet, enabling the venue to host live performances of music, theater, and other stage productions.

The project will provide an economic boost into the Flatbush neighborhood, which has largely missed out on the boom enjoyed by many of its northern neighbors, said the mayor, who claimed the redevelopment would create 500 construction jobs and 50 permanent positions, in addition to many other temporary jobs staffing 200-250 events a year when the theater re-opens in early 2015.

“Plays, concerts and other [events] that this new venue will host, and the audience they will attract, will help, we think, spur additional investment along Flatbush Avenue and throughout Central Brooklyn,” said the Mayor, promising that the venue “will be great for Brooklyn’s artists and community organizations, because local groups will have more affordable performance space.”

This latest push to restore the once-glamorous theater dates back to before the financial crisis. Previous efforts flopped due to lack of funding.

The expansive rehab job, managed by the ACE Theatrical Group, LLC, will be financed with $50 million in city money, in a private-public partnership with Goldman Sachs and United Fund Advisors, who put up the other $44 million.

The ornate theater — the city’s third largest after Radio City and the Theater at Madison Square Garden — was inspired by the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House and built with pink marble with a lofty domed ceiling. It was an early place of employment for famous Brooklynites like Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler and others like Paul Lepelletier, a former usher who showed up for the ground breaking.

“If need be, Marty [Markowitz] and I can be the ushers,” said Lepelletier, who noted he was one of the last ushers at the theater before it closed in 1977.

It was also the place that anyone over a certain age in Brooklyn probably had their high-school graduation, Markowitz said.

Developers said that the decaying theater hall, which first-timers gawk at as if uncovering the remnants of a lost civilization, would be easier to rehabilitate than it might seem to the naked eye.

“The basic structure is actually quite sound,” said Gary Martinez, the president and CEO of Martinez + Johnson, the architectural firm in charge of the project. “They really did know how to build them back then.”

And for some Brooklynites, the opening of the theater might present a bit of a second chance.

As a coterie of city big-wigs strode through the beautiful ruins of the movie palace, Markowitz pointed up to the grand balcony, stage-left.

“My first date was up there,” he said. “Didn’t work out.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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