Who are these people?
By DAVID LLOYD JONES
TULSA GOLD: Californians Henry Kaufman, above, and Maurice Kanbar have purchased what some say are 32 percent of the buildings in downtown Tulsa for future investment. Their real estate transactions have created a positive buzz throughout the region.
In the last few months Henry Kaufman and Maurice Kanbar have purchased almost one-third of downtown Tulsa. How did it happen?
Here is the story as three people with strong Tulsa ties tell it.
Early last year former Tulsan Paulette Millichap was having a conversation with a friend and her grandson. The friend was expounding on the opportunities to be found in real estate in almost every market.
“Not in downtown Tulsa,” Millichap recalls saying.
The friend replied that good opportunities were available, even in downtown Tulsa.
Her friend was Henry Kaufman, a financial advisor to some very deep pocketbooks and a man noted for turning a contrarian nature into a profitable one. In previous real estate dealings he morphed the Soho district of New York from a deserted and dilapidated section of the Big Apple to an upscale and highly sought-after neighborhood.
Kaufman, who has spent 40 years of his life on Wall Street, has a history of investing where wise men fear to tread. By going against the trend, such as his involvement with the Soho area, he has amassed an enviable fortune.
He has also made a name for himself not only in financial but philanthropic circles. His biography lists his name on an incredible number of boards of directors.
He invests with a passion.
Some of his investments were backing inventions by a young man named Maurice Kanbar.
“Maurice,” says Tulsa’s Sally Dennison who has met Kanbar on multiple occasions, “loves to see a problem and make it work. He is an incredible thinker outside the box.”
Kanbar has at least 36 inventions to his credit, starting with the D-Fuzz-It Sweater Comb. He once bought a movie theater in New York City and, when the financial returns were disappointing, transformed it into four theaters that could show four lightly attended movies profitably. Thus, almost accidentally, Kanbar invented the multiplex movie theater.
Perhaps his most famous invention is Skyy Vodka, a beverage born to cure the curse of the drinking class: the hangover. He discovered that the distilling process produced congeners (present in almost all distilled alcoholic beverages) and invented a process that got rid of the congeners. Putting it in a distinctive blue bottle, Kanbar soon found himself with the highest-selling domestically produced vodka on the market.
Millichap, whose friendship with Kanbar goes back some four decades, met Kaufman through him and the three have been friends for decades. When Millichap moved to Tulsa the friendships lapsed, as friendships sometimes do, until Millichap formed Council Oak Books with Dennison and Michael Hightower.
In time an infusion of capital seemed like a good idea and Millichap thought of her friend Kanbar, now living in San Francisco. Kanbar, who has made a history of helping people with artistic ideas, bought Council Oak and brought the business side of the little publishing house to San Francisco.
Millichap, after some job switches, found herself acting as a consultant for Council Oak in San Francisco. She also wound up living in the same apartment building with Kaufman and Kanbar. Thus it was that Millichap and Kaufman were able to have their little disagreement on the efficacy of the downtown Tulsa real estate market.
Kaufman, says Millichap, did some research, found a property he liked, and called an old friend to swing the deal. He knew attorney Ray Feldman of the Tulsa law firm of Feldman, Franden, Woodard, Ferris & Boudreaux, from having served on a bank board with him, and it was to Feldman that Kaufman turned when he decided to buy some downtown Tulsa properties.
Feldman and his wife Nancy have been long-time Tulsa boosters but Feldman clearly remembers his first reaction: “You,” he told Kaufman, “are out of your mind.”
Kaufman told Feldman he wished he had gotten more involved with the Soho District and Feldman said “that’s New York and this is Tulsa and Tulsa is not New York,’ to which Kaufman replied, “I think we can make it happen.”
“Well,” says Feldman, “if you’re really hell-bent on doing this I’ll come out of retirement and do the legal work.”
There are several things that appealed to Kaufman, Feldman believes. First, the downtown area is clean and even the empty buildings are in pretty good shape. Second, there is a large and attractive work force available. Third, as Kaufman has visited Tulsa over the months he told Feldman, “I’ve fallen in love with the people of Tulsa and with the city itself.”
Kaufman, says Feldman, was also impressed with the “can do” spirit of Tulsa in passing the 2025 bond issue.
Jin Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, remembers meeting Kaufman for the first time probably in early September. “Most of the purchases are money-makers from the beginning,” says Norton. “A lot of the buildings Kaufman and Kanbar have purchased are sound business investments right now.”
How about the others?
Norton refuses to comment.
But Millichap sees what has been widely reported: office buildings turned into modern apartment buildings, restaurants everywhere, and a thriving commercial community.
“Remember,” says Feldman, “Henry has friends high up in a number of circles. He has resources. He has made a believer out of me that their dreams and hopes for a rebirth of downtown Tulsa can happen and that their confidence and energy will prove to make it happen with the help of good leadership and the kind of Tulsa spirit we knew in the old days.”
How far will this buying spree go? No one but the two main participants know, and both of them are keeping a careful distance from the press.
“But I love the concept,” says Millichap. “This is a growing trend in America. With the suburbs going farther and farther out, a lot of families are looking to return to the center of town where all the amenities are within walking distance.
“I’ve lived in Tulsa and loved it. Now I live in San Francisco and I can walk out my door and visit all the venders in my neighborhood. We’ve all become friends and it’s a wonderful way to live.”