Folks, there is no ideal time for me to take a couple days off. When I planned my brief departure from civilization, it appeared as if the extension deadline for Aaron Yashouafar to pay off $12 million to Capmark Bank or lose control of First National to a receiver was to take place on Oct. 4. Instead, it took place on Thursday.
So what happened?
First things first: the judge is Bill Graves. Let me repeat that: the judge is Bill Graves, who was first elected to the bench in 2007. I’ll put his name in bold face capital letters each time I mention him as I detail where things are at.
So Aaron Yashouafar’s attorney showed up for the hearing, Capmark Bank had Jim Parrack ready to claim receivership, and the money was NOT paid up. According to the legal agreement by Aaron Yashouafar, he promised he WOULD NOT contest it going into receivership if he did not pay the $12 million by the May 27 deadline, which was then extended at the agreement of Capmark three times.
During that time, Yashouafar has submitted a guilty plea to felony embezzlement involving a senior citizen condominium complex in Las Vegas. I reported last week he is under federal investigation in connection with documents Oklahoma City officials suspect were faked to claim asbestos removal funding.
So Yashouafar’s attorney shows up in the Oklahoma County courtroom of BILL GRAVES. And the attorney, sources tell me, informed JUDGE BILL GRAVES that the money wire they were awaiting had gotten “lost” and that they need more time to find it. JUDGE BILL GRAVES then extended the hearing – not to Friday – but to 11 a.m. Monday.
Sources say they are concerned Yashouafar may be using this delay to find another source of funding. But here’s the deal: the receivership hearing was already started, and this is a continuation of that hearing. JUDGE BILL GRAVES, sources tell me, has the discretion to call an end to this chapter of the First National story on Monday and have a receiver appointed, as previously agreed to by all sides of this dispute, to sell the property to a new owner. JUDGE BILL GRAVES also could decide to extend this story further and give an admitted felon the chance to find the money to retain control of a property considered one of the city’s most historic important landmarks.
Here’s a reminder of what’s at stake in the courtroom of JUDGE BILL GRAVES:
Renderings for the new Main Street Parking Garage were posted online todayby the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, and what they reveal is a significant change to the skyline and urban street walls leading up to City Hall and Devon Energy Center. The garage will be built on surface parking lots now owned by Urban Renewal and the Hightower Building. Plans call for retail on the first floor, and potential housing on the top three stories.
With so much going on with Aaron Yashouafar, owner of First National Center, pleading guilty to embezzlement and facing loss of the downtown landmark, it’s difficult to get every detail into print. I’ll let the following Nevada television news reports tell “the rest of the story” on Yashouafar’s embezzlement of money from senior citizens.
It all began, it appears, with a raid by the FBI on an old fashioned condominium complex in Las Vegas known as Paradise Spa. That occurred in early 2011. When it comes to reporting on the Las Vegas legal actions, KLAS-8 seems to have the best coverage.
The excellent reporting by KLAS-8 continued with this report on how the mostly elderly residents at Paradise Spa then faced eviction:
| 8 News NOW
Next, Yashouafar is yanked from his role as head of the Paradise Spa condo association, ban from other condo boards for three years:
| 8 News NOW
The reporting continues with KLAS-8 beginning to link the Paradise Spa situation with another Yashouafar controversy at the Sky condos in Las Vegas – and with the troubles at First National Center:
| 8 News NOW
Charges were filed in December, and now, a guilty plea. So what’s next? Yashouafar has until Aug. 17 to come up with $12 million to pay off his lender, Capmark, or lose First National. One question: are there any Oklahoma City players coming to Yashouafar’s aid? And if there are, and if they succeed, what will be the community response to such efforts that result in a man who has plead guilty to embezzlement, a man who has filed multiple bankruptcies, faced tenant revolts, keeping control of First National?
Center proposal unveiled
New owners focus on restoring ‘jewel.’
By Steve Lackmeyer
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Edition: City, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1B
A Los Angeles-based partnership that is building a $325 million condominium tower in Las Vegas announced Monday “several million” will be spent to restore Oklahoma City’s First National Center as downtown’s “crown jewel.”
Alliance Property Investments Inc. and Carla Ridge LLC., both affiliated with Milbank Real Estate Services, closed on the $21 million cash purchase of the building on Friday.
Milbank will manage the building and oversee renovations.
Jason Little, who along with Gary Gregory of Sperry Van Ness represented the buyers, said the group typically moves fast with development and won’t settle for the First National Center remaining 66 percent vacant. But offices may not be the only future tenants.
“Their goal is to spend the money to bring back First National,” Little said. “They’re not ruling out partial condominium conversion. They’ve done condominiums, both new and adaptive reuse.”
Little did not identify principals of the buying partnership, and officials with Milbank could not be reached for comment. Milbank’s Web site, www.milbankre.com, describes the company as one that transforms undeveloped land and distressed properties into “profitable, community enhancing developments.”
“Our promise is to develop new projects and renovate distressed properties, filling voids in surrounding neighborhoods while producing substantial returns for client investments,” the Web site states.
Reopen hall to public
Immediate plans include reopening the Great Banking Hall to the public.
The entrance was roped off by the previous owners and remained empty since Boatman’s Bank (now Bank of America) abandoned the tower in 1993 and moved across the street to Leadership Square.
“It will be used for special events,” Little said. “They want to restore it as the focal point of the building. It’s too remarkable a space not to be utilized.”
First National Tower has been a downtown icon for 75 years, with additions built in 1957 and 1972.
Milbank’s online portfolio indicates First National would be the company’s first building outside of California and Nevada.
Among the company’s properties is the Figueroa Tower in Los Angeles, which twice won the “Office Building of the Year” award from the Building Owner and Managers Association, and “The Roosevelt,” a $125 million redevelopment of the Roosevelt Building from offices into 223 luxury condominiums.
Other projects include development of two 35 story luxury condominium towers in Phoenix and construction of the 45-story “Sky Las Vegas” condominiums along the Las Vegas strip.
Little said despite the company’s residential development, the owners may also look at restoring the First National from Class C to Class A office space.
Under either scenario, Little said the owners are looking to retain current office tenants.
“The last Class A office space built in downtown Oklahoma City was 20 years ago,” Little said. “Downtown has not had a breath of fresh air when it comes to office space in 20 years.”
Dave Lopez, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., said he is eager to learn more about the new owners’ intentions.
“I think the opportunity to have a mixed use is a double blessing for downtown,” Lopez said. “Not only do we get increased residential opportunities, which research shows we need, but we also start to trim down our office vacancies.”
Over at OKC Talk, a good conversation is underway about properties considered to be blights on the city skyline. It’s easy to understand why the Veolia (formerly known as Trigen) plant is mentioned prominently. To be fair, it was actually quite progressive that way back in the early 1970s a thermal energy plant was built to provide an alternative heating and cooling source for downtown properties. I’ve seen quite a competition between Veolia and Oklahoma Gas & Electric in providing service to downtown buildings, including those owned by the city. The plant was built at what city leaders thought, at the time, would remain an obscure southeast boundary for downtown.
Today, as we all know, the intersection of E.K. Gaylord and Sheridan is among the most visible intersections downtown, at the crossroads of the central business district, the convention center, hotels and Bricktown. It’s a busy corridor. And yeah, it’s kind of ugly.
A dozen years ago downtown property owners, planners and civic leaders participated in a series of downtown master planning meetings. Sadly, the action plan they developed was quickly abandoned for lack of movement. One idea I always thought was great was the idea that the old Trigen plant could become a great canvass for public art or for glitzy Times Square style billboards.
So how about it folks? Why can’t this be done? And if it can be done, who will take the lead?
Click on image three times to view in high resolution.
Looks like my first reactions to the new agenda for the Downtown Design Review Committee match those being asked at OKC Talk. Exactly how is it that city staff can administratively approve replacing brick, as originally voted by the Downtown Design Review Committee, with EIFS Stucco? And what’s up with the windows?
6. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP for revision to original Certificate of Approval to install EIFS in place of originally approved brick veneer on upper levels of the east elevation; and modify the proposed work to reflect only floors 13 to 18 at east elevation.
7. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP, for second revision to original Certificate of Approval to delete previously approved window systems in upper levels of east elevation; install metal panel systems in lieu of windows in same configuration and location at rear elevation.
In other business, as expected by critics of the Civic Center park redesign, the Planning Department is now recommending approval…
When John Hefner worked a brief stint as a young man in The Oklahoman newsroom, the rules were pretty clear. The reporter got to report and write the news, the person being covered … well, they got to read the stories written by the reporter in the morning paper like everyone else.
In 2011, the rules seem to be changing on a daily basis. With blogs and social media, the wall that once stood between a reporter like myself and regular readers came crumbling down. We talk. We communicate. We exchange ideas.
My latest story on First National Center details concerns by Hefner and a slightly larger tenant, Devon Energy, about the upkeep of the property and the safety of its elevators. But thanks to the advent of “new media,” this blog also provides an opportunity to a guy like John Hefner to tell his own story. And as you’ll soon discover, John is still a pretty decent writer ….
REASONS THE HEFNER COMPANY, INC IS LEAVING THE FIRST NATIONAL
BY W. JOHN HEFNER
In occupying a suite on the 25th floor of the First National Center since early 1999, the employees of The Hefner Company, Inc. have seen the building in the hands of three different ownership groups, but will not be sticking around for the next one.
“Our last hope was that with Milbank Real Estate going into bankruptcy, we would get a new owner who would be both able and willing to make vital repairs and restoration to this historic structure. However, the bankruptcy drags on to no avail, and we have made irreversible plans to move elsewhere,” said W. John Hefner, company president.
The elevators continually malfunction, stopping on floors not selected, going the opposite direction, and even not working. “On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I had to come downtown quickly to get something I had forgotten. It took a security guard to get the elevator system to even come to life. He took me to the 25th floor and held the car. I was back in a flash. The doors did not just close – they slammed shut, and we were taken up to the 30th floor where operations stopped. We clawed open the doors, held them open for each other so we could get out, and they slammed shut behind us. We walked down 30 flights of stairs,” Hefner recalled.
He added that since that time, while he has seen repairmen from two different companies work on the system from time to time, on-going-bugs plague the system. “I have asked the workmen discreetly and have learned that some of the 1956 technology (when the elevators were converted to automatic from manually-operated) remains as ‘some’ vacuum tubes are still in place. That pre-dates transistors, and I can’t believe vacuum tubes are even available. No wonder there are problems,” he said.
The Hefner Company, Inc., by pure coincidence, leased the exact suite the company had occupied in the years of 1949-1956. Some of the same furniture was returned, and the situation seemed good.
But, Hefner said, his first meeting with the Milbank management went sour when he asked Raymond Yashouafar, Vice-President of Operations and Simon Barlava, Asset Manager, if they paid their bills on time. They became angry and red-faced. “They said they were highly insulted, and they stormed out. At the time, I thought I made a grave error, but since then, I read in the newspaper from time-to-time about vendors filing suit for non-payment, and I have talked with vendors I know who told me about difficulties collecting.
“What is especially egregious is that the thick marble floor at the Robinson entry was jackhammered out, and cheaper flooring was put in. Yet, straight above that floor one can see the original art-deco paint on the ceiling is peeling badly. That goes ignored. Even new carpet for the elevators cars would have been an improvement, but it did not happen.
“I have written letters to the men in California, and I have yet to receive a response. Meanwhile, the commercial concourse has been partially torn out, but not completely finished. Here, wood paneling was removed, and white sheetrock was installed. It has been three years! The bottom line is that these landlords have hurt themselves and not helped stabilize a downtown Oklahoma City landmark,” he concluded.
With all the uncertainty about the building’s future, poor decisions being made with expenditures, and his employees being highly concerned about getting stuck in the elevators, the company is leaving for good.