Lack of action on First Playhouse redevelopment criticized

Robert Pelaez
Torn up walkway in front of the First Playhouse in Great Neck Estates (Photo Courtesy of Monica Braunfeld)

Residents and shop owners expressed frustration at a Great Neck Estates Board of Trustees meeting Monday over lack of progress in the redevelopment of the First Playhouse.

Village officials said that they were waiting for action by the developer.

The developer, Albert Shirian, is seeking to demolish the playhouse and replace it with a 20-unit apartment building with retail space.

The First Playhouse, located at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive, showcased Broadway-bound plays and vaudeville acts starting in the mid-1920s, including the works of the Marx brothers in its heyday. United Artists bought the theatre in the 1930s, but it went out of business in 1983.

“As of now, the developer has filed an application to amend the plans for reconstruction,” Mayor William D. Warner said.  “As of now, we are awaiting the environmental traffic impact and other forms in order to commence building.”

Trustees granted the developers demolition and building permits on July 8, but a lack of progress on filing other necessary documents has led to a stalemate. 

At Monday’s meeting, one business owner described  the building as “an absolute eyesore.” 

Others called for the board to take action by finding aesthetic-based code violations that could  incentivize the building owner and the developers to speed up the process.  Village Attorney A. Thomas Levin said that is not possible.

“We have looked through every building code the village has established,” Levin said. “There are no aesthetic codes or any other codes that the owner has violated.”

One citizen said, “The playhouse was a structural staple within the community. It may not physically be a safety issue, but it is severely damaging the businesses around it by the decrepit façade.”

The building’s exterior features chipped paint, remnants of previous signs, exposed weeds, cracked tile and trash scattered at the doorways.

Another citizen mentioned a potential solution of “hanging local or high school art in the windows, to help make the exterior more appealing at the very least.”

One of the few ways that the board could potentially supersede the owner and developers is by finding the funds within the village to buy the space for public use. Warner addressed this by saying, “We are open to hearing any and all suggestions from residents.”

“We are just as, if not more, frustrated with this process as you all are,” Warner said. “We are doing everything we possibly can to get this done with, and make our downtown beautiful again.”

Warner and the board concluded the discussion by encouraging people to be present for the next update on the playhouse, scheduled for Monday, Nov. 11.

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