NYC Billionaire Absentee Landlord To 140 Acres In Niagara Falls

1:52 PM, Sep 5, 2013   |    comments
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NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - All over downtown Niagara Falls there are vacant lots with signs saying "Niagara Falls Redevelopment" on them.

But the name on the signs is a misnomer because there's no redevelopment going on.

The dozens of lots, totaling 140 acres of prime real estate, are owned by New York City billionaire Howard Milstein.

If you had to draw up a New York City real estate magnate, he'd probably wind up looking very much like Howard Milstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants.

"It was my father and grandfather who started the business. We started in the wood flooring business and worked for other builders and then my father said I think I can do the building, I don't have to work for the builders," said Milstein in a YouTube video.

That began a family real estate empire in New York City that grew to now include 50,000 apartments, office buildings, and hotels.

And Howard Milstein's resume is nearly as rich as he is:

* He has both law and business degrees from Harvard;

* The family's net worth is estimated at 3.8 billion dollars;

* It's Howard who controls the family's real estate empire;

* The family also owns Emigrant Savings Bank in New York;

* Milstein and his wife Abby are major philanthropists, giving millions to hospitals, museums and libraries;

* Milstein is also a major donor to Governor Cuomo;

* Two years ago Cuomo appointed Milstein as the head of the state Thruway Authority;

* And back in the 1990s Milstein made an unsuccessful bid to buy the Washington Redskins.

Given all that, you can see that the 140 acres of downtown vacant land that Milstein owns in Niagara Falls is not necessarily one of his priorities.

But Milstein sitting on under-utilized land is nothing new, he did the same thing on a much bigger scale in New York City's Times Square, says New York City business reporter Aaron Elstein of "Crain's New York Business."

Aaron Elstein: "There's a piece of real estate on Eighth Avenue and 42nd street which back in the day was a pretty rough part of town, now it's very ritzy - they (the Milstein family) held onto it and did not build on it for years and there was always a fight with the city for getting them to build on it they said 'no, we're just going to wait' and they did and in the end they sold it for an astronomical sum of money."

Senator Chuck Schumer has known Milstein since they went to law school together 40 years ago.

Scott Brown: "What kind of guy is he?"

Senator Chuck Schumer: "He's very smart, he's very brass tacks - if you bring him a good business deal he'll go for it, if you don't he'll reject it even if he's your friend or he likes you. He's a man of his word, you know I think he's a very decent fellow, but he's a businessman above all and if he can be shown that there's a path to profitability, he'll take it."

Aaron Elstein: "He's going to hold out for the best deal, these people are very, very good at what they do. They are classic buy low, sell high, buy distressed, buy cheap, buy what people don't want and wait for the world to change and they can afford to wait because they're making money in lots of other areas."

State Senator George Maziarz knows Milstein fairly well.

Scott Brown: "You've had some contact with Mr. Milstein, how would you describe him?"

George Maziarz: "He seems to me to be a very nice guy, a very generous guy does a lot through his family's philanthropic organization, he seems to me like a very good guy."

When it comes to publicity, you could say that Milstein is the anti-Trump. Other than his philanthropic activities, Milstein likes to fly below the radar and stay out of the media as much as possible.

Earlier this summer, 2 On Your Side asked Senator Schumer if he would speak with Milstein about doing something with his Niagara Falls properties.

Schumer did ask, and Milstein said he would be willing to meet with city officials about the land, once they had specific development proposals to discuss with him.

Scott Brown: "Why do you think Milstein is willing to meet now after so many years?"

Senator Schumer: "Look Milstein's a businessman above all and he'd like to make some profit on the properties he's held for so long."

Scott Brown: "Do you think he's looking to sell these properties or develop them or does it depend on the deal?"

Senator Schumer: "My guess is, and I haven't talked to him specifically about that, if he can be shown a way to develop the property, my guess is he'd probably prefer that, he is a developer and likes to develop things. But he has to be given a realistic chance."

Scott Brown: "Bottom line, is he just being a good businessman?"

George Maziarz: "Look every business person in the world wants to and has a right to make a profit I think he's looking for the right thing. I've talked to him, he's never refused to take my call, he's never refused to sit down with me. I think we can get his renewed interest now that the Seneca deal is done, now that Senator Schumer is more directly involved in it."

And Schumer says now after 15 years, could be the time where Milstein the businessman, and a city desperate for business, could finally come together.

Senator Schumer: "My advice to Mayor Dyster and the folks in Niagara Falls is treat this as a business proposition, he's not going to do charity here, but nor will he just take you to the cleaners or hold out for the best possible deal. You show him a way to profitability and they could make music together."


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