Developer Says He Does Not Feel Bad About Demolishing Sunshine Cinema

The Sunshine's last days. Photo courtesy of Faust.

The Sunshine’s last days. Photo courtesy of Faust.

One of the developers who purchased the former Sunshine Cinema building says he has no qualms about demolishing the historic Lower East Side theater.

Gregory Kraut of the K Property Group spoke with Commercial Observer about his plans for the site at 141 East Houston St., among other Manhattan real estate ventures. As previously reported, the Sunshine will be knocked down to make way for a 9-story glassy office tower.

Asked if he feels bad about tearing down the Sunshine, Kraut said, “No, not at all.” The Landmark Theatre chain operated the independent film venue from 2001 until this past January. Kraut said of the Landmark team, “they were trying for years to make money and they couldn’t. The area has changed, and quite frankly, the business model didn’t, and so we gave them options to renew. They had several opportunities to buy the building.”

K Property Group and East End Capital bought the building for $30.5 million last year. They’re planning a “boutique office building” with ground floor retail. The new complex will be about 63,000 square feet, roughly twice the size of the current building. Kraut said he’s bullish on the Lower East Side retail market. The partners have been watching commercial activity in the area, and believe companies are ready to plant roots in the neighborhood.

Demolition was originally supposed to occur this month. Kraut says he now expects it to begin in a couple of months. This means you have a while longer to check out FAUST’s “Sunset” mural on the East Houston Street facade.

Portions of the theater building reportedly date to 1838, when the German evangelical mission was based there. It then became the Houston Athletic Center (1908) and the Houston Hippodrome (1909), a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts. In 1917, it was renamed the Sunshine, before becoming the Chopein Theatre in the 1930s.

 

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Here’s the Glassy Tower Set to Replace the Historic Sunshine Cinema

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Rendering of office/retail complex replacing Sunshine Cinema at 141 East Houston St. Image by Real Estate Arts.

Locals and independent film buffs from across the city flocked to the Sunshine Cinema over the weekend for one last visit before the theater closed for good last night. Now this morning in the New York Times we’re greeted by a rendering of the glassy tower that will replace the historic 1898 building on East Houston Street.

The developers, East End Capital and K Property Group, describe their new project as a 9-story boutique office building for small to midsize firms with ground floor retail. East End Capital’s Jonathan Yormak is preparing to wipe away an important piece of Lower East Side history (the Sunshine was a venue for Yiddish vaudeville acts in the early 1900s). But he tells the Times, “We’re big fans of the Lower East Side… It really needs more 9-to-5 activity and it tends to be very active, obviously, on a night life basis. We believe there is a real demand for office space and for people to work there during the day.”

The 65,000 square foot project is being designed by Roger Ferris. The Sunshine will be demolished starting in March. Construction is expected to be completed at the end of 2019.

In 1994, gallery owner and entrepreneur Tim Nye partnered with Landmark Theaters for a $12 million renovation of the historic property, which was being used as a warehouse. Nye said the Sunshine was, “doing incredible” financially, but that Landmark was only paying $8,000/month for a 30,000 square foot space. The rent would have gone astronomically higher at the end of the lease (Jan. 2018), even if developers hadn’t purchased it last year for $31.5 million. “We cannot pay market rent,” said Nye. “But we knew this day was coming from day one. It was a good run.”

In 2016, Landmark Theatres CEO Ted Mundorff told IndieWire that the annual rent at the Sunshine was around $200,000. He said it was, “pretty shortsighted” of Community Board 3 to have rejected Landmark’s application for a liquor permit in 2012. As we reported following that community board discussion six years ago, Landmark executives said that adding in-theater dining and drinking offered the only hope of keeping the Sunshine open long-term.

Among those quoted in today’s Times story is Brett Leitner, a local preservationist who helped lead an effort to landmark the Sunshine. The Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected the application because the building had been substantially altered over the years.

 

☀️…And then, suddenly, there was no sunshine☀️Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Singin’ In The Rain. The Wizard of Oz. Taxi Driver. Blue Velvet. Desperately Seeking Susan. Edward Scissorhands. Back To The Future. The Warriors. Halloween. A Clockwork Orange. Annie Hall. Manhattan. So many more to name, too many to remember. For 12 years, I would bask in the glow of Sunshine at Midnight, practically skipping the short distance from my apartment down Houston Street. The curved brick marquee illuminated by the soft glow of canary colored lights spelling out S U N S H I N E waited patiently in the distance. The memories of the meet ups, the dates, the first dates, the last dates, and the solo escapes, flicker frame by frame, through my mind. Sunshine Cinema, you were a magical little place for so many. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything, and for allowing the sun to shine all night. ☀️☀️☀️#sunshinecinema #sunshineatmidnight #nostalgia #letsgotothemovies

A post shared by daniela (@cricket_cat) on