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New Heights Cinema building owners hope to woo preservationists

Sell-uloid! Brooklyn Heights Cinema up for sale
Scary movie: A “For Sale or Lease” sign cropped up on the front of the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, causing concern about the future of the tiny independent film house.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Maybe the next person will have better luck.

The former home of Brooklyn Heights Cinema, a one-story building on Henry Street between Cranberry and Orange Streets, officially sold to Madison Estates and JMH Developers for $7.5 million this week after months of talks. The previous owner tried twice to tear the building down and build a luxury apartment complex in its place, but was rebuffed both times by city preservationists. The storied cinema decamped ahead of the sale and a spokesman for the buyers said they are looking to redevelop the 1895 building — if they can snag permission in the heavily regulated Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

“We’re looking to do something that will enhance the neighborhood,” said Joseph Baglio, a broker with Madison Estates. “If we can — it is Brooklyn Heights.”

The property is not landmarked, but falls within the confines of the historic district, meaning any alteration requires the approval of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The new team may have better luck than former owner Tom Caruana, judging from a recent project on Congress Street where Madison and JMH constructed a row of nine townhouses in the nearby Cobble Hill Historic District. Zoning at the Henry Street site allows for a five-story residential building with a storefront on the ground floor.

Meanwhile, Heights Cinema owner Kenn Lowy is still hunting for a new place to set up his projectors. He shuttered the 46-year-old, two screen theater at the end of August when he learned the soon-to-be-new owners didn’t plan to keep him around. Lowy spent most of his three years at the helm of the movie house fending off closure, first fighting for inclusion in Caruana’s initial redevelopment plan, then pushing to get the revised, theater-inclusive plan approved.

He purchased the theater in 2011 after the previous owner, Norman Adie, went to jail for running a Ponzi scheme involving investments for an expansion of the business that prosecutors charged he never intended to make. Lowy had eyed the Dumbo space that housed the gastropub Rebar until its owner left in cuffs on tax fraud charges, but apparently couldn’t reach a deal to rent it.

Lowy said he has no hard feelings, having spoken to Gerard Longo, president of Madison Estates.

“Gerard seemed like a really good guy. I don’t know what he has planned for the building, but I’m sure it’ll be good,” he said.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌[email protected]‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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