Dec. 7, By Christian Murray
Sunnyside Center Cinemas will be closing its doors on January 4 after screening movies in the neighborhood for decades, the theater’s owner said Sunday.
Theater owner, Rudy Prashad, said he was informed last week that John Ciafone, whose wife owns Broadway Stages, was not renewing his lease. His lease ends December 31 but he has been given to Jan. 10 to clear out of the building.
Prashad said that he had been going back and forth with the property manager for months as he wondered what was happening to his lease.
“They strung me along,” Prashad said, “But I guess it’s their building and they are free to do what they want.”
“It is a very sad day,” Prashad said. “I was hoping that the cinema would stay and one day be landmarked.”
Prashad said that he also felt sorry for some of the families in the neighborhood who will have to pay double to go to the movies elsewhere. “We haven’t changed our prices for years– $5.00 for children and seniors, while $7.50 for adults,” he said.
There is also the ‘kid combo,’ he said, which consists of a popcorn, soda, candy and a movie for $10. Before 5 pm each day, adults only pay $5.
Prashad said that he had no ill will toward Ciafone and Broadway Stages. “I was disappointed with Dime Bank [the previous owner],” he said. “I was negotiating a 20-year lease with them and then they suddenly sold it.”
Dime sold the property to Ciafone for $6.65 million in December 2012.
Prashad had owned the theater for nine years and believes there has been a theater at that location since the 1940s.
He said that he had been paying between $13,000 and $14,000 in rent per month and was always on time.
Prashad said the theater is one of the last independent theaters left in Queens.
There is an independent theater in Kew Gardens, which happens to be owned by Prashad. He thinks that theater might be the only independent theater left in Queens playing American movies. There are one or two others, he said, but they cater to ethnic groups.
Prashad said that he would like to thank the residents of Sunnyside for their patronage over the years and plans on showing a free movie before he leaves.
With Center Cinemas gone, Ciafone is now trying to lease the air rights to a developer to build residential apartments above the ground-floor retail space.
The owner plans to keep the retail space while leasing 52,000 square feet of air rights to a developer. The developer would have to pay a ground lease of $750,000 per year for those rights.
Ciafone plans to keep PJ Horgan’s as an on-going tenant, said Evan Daniel, a broker for Modern Spaces, which has the real estate listing. Daniel said that PJ Horgan’s is the only business with an existing lease and is well regarded by the community.
When Ciafone purchased the building, PJ Horgan’s, Dime Bank, dentist Dr. Arthur Kubikian, and Center Cinemas were all tenants.
PJ Horgan’s, which rents 1,300 square feet of space, has a lease through June 2018. “They are a good tenant that pay market rent,” Daniel said.
The ground-floor retail space is likely to be completely refurbished, Daniel said. However, nothing will change that will impact PJ Horgan’s business.
Correction: The property is owned by John Ciafone whose wife owns Broadway Stages– not Broadway Stages the entity.
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