SUNNYSIDE — A plan to tear down the neighborhood's shuttered movie theater and two adjacent businesses to build new apartments was held up by the lapse of the state's 421-a tax-abatement program, according to the owner of the property.
John Ciafone owns 42-17 Queens Blvd. at 43rd Street — home to the former Sunnyside Center Cinemas, P.J. Horgan's Pub and Dime Savings Bank, all of which are closed — where he plans to construct a new apartment building with retail on the ground floor.
But nearly three years after he announced his plans to develop the site, its three storefronts remain vacant and undeveloped, a delay the owner attributes to the end of the state's controversial 421-a program in early 2016, which offered property tax breaks to affordable housing developers.
"What set us back significantly, in terms of time, was 421-a," Ciafone told DNAinfo Tuesday, saying he had to wait for the revival of the program before moving forward at the site.
But the owner's hoping to get the project off the ground in the next year, now that a new version of 421-a — now dubbed "Affordable New York Housing" — was passed by the state legislature last month.
"We do intend to build housing and have stores below," Ciafone said, adding he's still interested in including a portion of affordable units at the site, though he's not sure if that will definitely be the case.
He would be open to the possibility of bringing Sunnyside Center Cinemas back as a retail tenant at the finished building, which will have an underground parking garage as well as office space for a community organization, Ciafone explained.
The owner's 42-25 Queens Boulevard Realty Corp. first purchased the building for $6.65 million in early 2013, city property records show.
While the Dime Savings bank at the site was already vacant at the time, Sunnyside Center Cinemas didn't close until a year later when its lease expired. Ciafone offered to extend its lease for six months, but the theater's owner turned him down, saying he needed a lengthier commitment.
Residents held a rally at the time to try to save the theater, which was treasured for its cheap prices, with tickets costing just $5 to catch a flick before 5 p.m.
Irish pub P.J. Horgan's closed in 2015 following a fire in its kitchen a few months before.
Locals say they still miss the former businesses. At a town hall meeting hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio in Long Island City last week, a man in the crowd mentioned Sunnyside Cinemas during a question about struggling mom-and-pop stores, lamenting that the old theater is still empty.
Ciafone said the cost of building in New York is as much about time as it is about money.
"Unfortunately in this city, you can speak to any developer, any real estate tycoon... it takes too long to build a building," he added. "It’s a very lengthy, timely process."