First Playhouse developers get a little more time

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Jan Soleimani, the owner of the First Playhouse building at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive, said developers are committed to the project. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Jan Soleimani, the owner of the First Playhouse building at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive, said developers are committed to the project. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck Estates trustees granted the developers for the First Playhouse project extra time to secure a demolition permit and building permit on Monday night after the group submitted amended plans for the building.

The First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp. has planned to redevelop the historic theater, which straddles Great Neck Estates and Great Neck Plaza and is located at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive, into a 20-unit apartment building with retail space for well over a decade.

The First Playhouse showcased Broadway-bound plays and Vaudeville acts starting in the mid-1920s, including the works of the Marx brothers and F. Scott Fitzgerald in its heyday. United Artists bought the theatre in the 1930s, but it went out of business in 1983.

The developers recently offered amended plans, which included changing the entrance location, adding windows to the west side facing Maple Drive and moving the fitness center upstairs.

A. Thomas Levin, the village attorney, had raised some concerns at the meeting, such as how the village would be protected and what would happen if the developers demolished the building but left “a hole in the ground.”

He also asked how the village could grant an extension if it was uncertain how long the process would be, as the village “can’t give an extension of the deadline forever.”

Albert Shirian, who is developing the project for First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp., said the company had found some problems and come up with a better plan. He also said he hopes to add a more modern façade to the building, which would not change its fundamental structure.

A lack of clear guidelines and extensive insurance requirements have been issues, Shirian said, but the developers plan to push forward with the project.

“I like to start, I like to finish, I like to get out,” Shirian said, adding that he plans to make the building as “beautiful as possible.”

Jan Soleimani, the owner of the building, also said he wants to get the project done as quickly as possible.

Mayor William Warner said Great Neck Estates is not trying to hold up the project and there is a “formula for what we have and what’s in the code,” which building inspector Barbara Dziorney must stick to.

“We’re trying to move this along,” Warner said.

The developers now have up to six months to get a demolition permit from the village and then six months after that to once more be approved for a building permit. Trustees also voted to move a public hearing on the First Playhouse’s amended plans to October.

Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender did not speak during the public hearing but commented afterward, “We’d like to see it built, too.”

Editor’s note: This article was edited to elaborate on the historic background of the First Playhouse. 

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