Brooklyn Heights

Crowdfunding saves Brooklyn Heights Cinema

Movie theater raises $30,000 – and then some – on Indiegogo, but its long-term future at 70 Henry St. is in doubt – the building's for sale or rent

April 2, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Crowdfunding has saved the Brooklyn Heights Cinema – at least for now.

Fans of the beloved neighborhood movie house, a fixture in the Heights since 1970, stepped up with pledges for cash donations on money-raising website Indiegogo.

The cinema’s supporters – 402 of them at last count – pledged $30,000, which was theater owner Kenn Lowy’s cash-raising goal, and then kept going from there, to pay for a desperately needed digital projector.

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He was going to close the twin theater at 70 Henry St. unless he got the dough.

“It’s really tremendous,” an elated Lowy told the Brooklyn Eagle about a last-minute surge of donor money that put the campaign over the top on Tuesday.

The digital projector was installed, unpaid for, in one of the cinema auditoriums in January and has been in use since then, he revealed. It would have been taken away from the theater if he hadn’t been able to raise the money.

“There’s no exaggeration here – it was do or die,” he told the Eagle. “We can’t survive on one screen. The only way forward was to gamble.”

Lowy signed a personal guarantee for the equipment, which includes a digital projector, media server, lenses and bulbs.

News of the success of his innovative fundraising comes as the cinema’s long-term future at the landmarked location is in doubt – because in February, landlord Tom Caruana hired Massey Knakal Realty Services to market the building for sale or rent.

The asking price for the single-story property is $7.5 million for sale and $30,000 per month for rent, a marketing flyer from the brokerage indicates.

Asked if he has gotten any qualified offers for the property, Caruana told the Eagle, “I can’t reveal anything. It’s all confidential at this point.”

At the same time, the landlord is trying to get city Landmarks Preservation Commission approval for his plans to construct a residential building with space for the cinema at the site. He vows to keep the property if wins the city preservation agency’s blessing.

“We’re pursuing all our options,” he told the Eagle.

Caruana twice failed to get a “yes” vote from the commission for his development plans, which were drawn up by Park Avenue South architecture firm Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel.

The LPC sent the most recent set of plans back to the drawing board last October.

“Whatever the Landmarks Commission suggested at the last meeting, all those items have been addressed,” said Caruana, whose family has owned 70 Henry since 1968. His grandfather Giuseppe Zevola bought the property through a family company, Ridgeton Poultry.

Also, Caruana said, architect Randy Gerner has reached out to the Brooklyn Heights Association to ask for backing.

“Without the Brooklyn Heights Association’s support and approval, we’re not getting this done,” Caruana said.

The association’s executive director, Judy Stanton, did not respond for comment by deadline.

Caruana said if he doesn’t get the LPC’s okay for development and instead sells or leases the property, “there’s no guarantee the cinema will remain.”

The movie house is leasing 70 Henry on a month-by-month basis and the property can be delivered vacant to a buyer or renter, Massey Knakal’s marketing flyer notes.

Development plans presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in October called for the white-painted building to be torn down and its bricks turned backwards to expose their red side for the ground-floor movie theater’s exterior.

Above the theater, four floors of apartments were planned – with floor-to-ceiling windows framed by reddish brownstone-colored ductile concrete.

Come what may, Lowy – who bought the cinema in 2011 when its previous owner got caught up in a financial scandal – is deeply grateful to the Indiegogo donors.

“I would say to them, ‘I can’t thank you enough.’ They literally saved the theater from going out of business,” he explained.

The original cutoff date for the crowdfunding campaign was Monday, March 31. But a staffer from Indiegogo called Lowy that day and said he was so close to his goal – $26,500 had been pledged – and offered to extend the deadline until April 7.

On Tuesday morning, April 1, an anonymous donor gave $2,000. Then others quickly jumped in and pushed the total to the $30,000 needed to pay the bill for the digital projector equipment.

“I was floored,” Lowy said. “I couldn’t believe it happened in one day.”

As of noon Wednesday, April 2, a total of $30,686 had been pledged.   

Additional money collected before the extended deadline will go towards funding a digital projector for the second auditorium – where for now,  increasingly hard-to-come-by 35mm films are being booked. “Le Week-End” is the 35mm film that the cinema is currently showing. (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is being shown on the digital projector.)

The asking rent Massey Knakal has set for 70 Henry St. is four times what Lowy is paying, he wrote in a message to supporters in February.

He told the Eagle that three prospective buyers or renters have been to visit the building – one this week.

If it turns out the cinema must move, Lowy has found two potential places to relocate in DUMBO. He hopes it won’t come to that.

“I love this location,” said the Brooklyn Heights musician, composer, singer-songwriter and computer consultant, who had been a movie-goer at the Henry Street cinema since his childhood. “I’d much rather stay.”

At least, if he needs to go, moving the digital projector and setting it up elsewhere will cost less than $1,000. In contrast, moving a 35mm projector is “exorbitant,” he said.


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