SUNNYSIDE — Residents are planning to rally this weekend to show their support for the neighborhood's only movie theater, which is set to close next month to make way for residential development.
The group will meet Sunday at 12:30 p.m. outside Center Cinemas on Queens Boulevard to show the site's landlord "that WE WANT a theater, this theater included in this new construction," according to posts on the event's Facebook page.
An online petition to save the theater, which the landlord may allow to return after affordable housing is built, has also garnered more than 1,000 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
"This theater clearly means something to all of us. A lot of people were very upset by it," said Ty Sullivan, a Sunnyside resident for 25 years who is helping organize Sunday's rally.
"It's one of those little places, one of those little private, independently owned businesses that makes Sunnyside special," he said. "It's affordable. It reached all demographics of the neighborhood."
Center Cinemas — where daytime movies cost $5 and shows after 5 p.m. cost $7.50 — is slated to close Jan. 4 as its lease expires at the end of this month.
The owner of the building where the theater is housed, at 42-17 Queens Blvd., recently offered to extend the business' lease for another six months.
"We’ve done everything we could to accommodate him," said the property owner, John Ciafone, who said his plan is to demolish the theater and the former Dime bank next door. The adjacent bar, P.J. Horgan's, will remain.
Ciafone said he is hoping to develop affordable housing at the site, with retail space as well as space for a community facility, like a daycare or senior center.
"What is the community looking for — are they looking for affordable housing or are they looking for a movie theater? They can have both," he said, saying he's open to discussing bringing Center Cinemas back to the space after construction is complete.
"At the end of the day we want to be partners with the community. We’re not here in any other way," he said.
The owner of the theater, Rudy Toolasprashad, turned down the offer of the six-month extension, requesting a longer option of a five- or two-year lease instead. Closing in six months would mean shutting down just before summer vacation, what he said is his busiest time of year.
"Six months I'm still in the same boat, it's just that you're giving me a longer paddle," Toolasprashad said. "In six months I have to make the same arrangements once again. Most of the employees have already gotten new jobs."
He said he is grateful to those who are planning to rally on the theater's behalf.
"It's very encouraging to know that the residents are so passionate about it, because I am myself," he said, saying he would love to return to the location after the future development is built.
"I would love to come back," he said.