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Plan for apartments, restaurant at closed Islip Cinemas inches forward

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Developers are looking to convert the shuttered Islip Cinemas at 410 Main Street into a mixed-use building with 23 apartment units and a 2,900-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor.

The Islip property first opened as a movie theater 75 years ago.

The proposed complex, being called Islip Cinema Lofts, advanced further through the approvals process in May after plans got the OK to move forward from the Islip Town Planning Board.

“The matter will need to be rescheduled before the Town Board for a change of zone public hearing,” a town spokesperson said. “That date has not been set at this time. If the Town Board authorizes the change of zone, the applicant/property owner will need to apply for site plan review and building permits prior to construction.” [Updated: July 6]

The applicant, Queens-based Global Team LI LLC, is looking to complete the project in accordance with the town’s Planned Landmark Preservation (PLP) district overlay.

Bay Shore architect David Busch, who designed the plans, said at a Planning Board public hearing in October that the idea is to reuse the existing building, since it has “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value,” citing the district overlay language.

“This is a proposal of adaptive reuse,” said Busch. “It is not a proposal to knock the landmark building down but an opportunity to maintain a culturally significant building to revitalize and anchor the western gateway of Main Street to the Hamlet of Islip.”

Adaptive reuse — a popular term in downtown planning — provides for a way to convert a building with a unique design or significant history for an unconventional use while preserving the character of the original structure.

Splayed out on the southeast corner of Main Street and Smith Avenue, with its distinctive neon marquee lighting up the word “Islip” on its facade, the theater that first opened in 1947 has welcomed visitors to downtown Islip from the west for generations.

An ad from the opening of the theater found on theater history website cinematreatures.com promotes the theater’s grand opening weekend with a showing of “The Ziegfeld Follies” starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.

Tickets were 35 cents each for an adult and 20 cents for a child.

Movies were shown “at popular prices in a most advanced atmosphere,” according to the advertisement. Yet that advanced atmosphere did not keep up with the times.

The theater survived the rise of multiplexes and, later, home movie rentals, by expanding its viewing screens to three in the 1970s.

The movie theater closed its doors in 2006, becoming a sad blight in the community. It was renovated and reopened in 2013 as Islip Cinemas but the pandemic and streaming services sounded the death knell for the age-old movie house.

It closed in March 2020, never to reopen.

The Islip Cinema Lofts plan would see the entire building renovated and updated.

“The project seeks to attract young professionals by creating attractive apartments using the existing footprint of the building and beautifying the existing brick façade, while celebrating the building’s 75-year-old history,” said Guy Germano, the attorney representing the applicants at a Town of Islip Planning Board Meeting in October.

The site plan shows that the count of apartments will consist of 16 studios, two 1-bedrooms, and five duplex/lofts. The tenant entrance and lobby would be off of Smith Street, accessed by an open garden entryway.

The proposed 2,923-square-foot restaurant on the ground floor would also have a 663-square-foot outdoor dining area off Smith Street.

Parking has become an issue for this project. To help, the applicants are proposing to renovating the parking lot on Smith Street, providing 50 parking spaces and increased lighting, making it a safer, more inviting place to park. They are also pitching a plan to contribute a parking litigation fee to the town of $1,500 per unit for use in improving downtown parking in Islip.

The design provides a cut for unloading and loading in front of the building so as not to disrupt traffic. The applicant says that the lofts and restaurant will generate significantly less traffic than movie theater use.

The proposal calculates 78 parking spaces will be needed for the project, 41 for the apartment units and 37 for the restaurant.

Parking concerns for that building actually go back to its heyday. A 1947 Newsday story stated that locals bitterly opposed the theater’s construction.

The main concern at the time?

Not enough parking.

Michael White photo