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Clock ticking on strategy for First National Tower

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: March 25, 2008
After sending out chocolates to tenants and bathing First National Tower in red lights for Valentine's Day, owners of the downtown landmark were hoping to win over any skeptics that are genuine in their desire to bring the property back to its lost grandeur.

The family-owned Milbank Real Estate has been battling ghosts of former owners against years of negligence by former owners who made big promises that were never delivered.

To date, the Los Angeles owners have spent $1.5 million on basics that can't be seen by the naked eye — new fire alarm and sprinkler systems, roof and electrical repairs. And now they are launching into their next round of renovations — a $1.5 million renovation of the first floor retail arcade.

The improvements outshine anything done by the last four owners, so why are some tenants less than impressed?

Let's start with the recent "groundbreaking,” which consisted of Lt. Gov. Jari Askins using a jackhammer to break up the marble floor in the original tower. M. Aaron Yashouafar, chief executive of Milbank, proudly announced that Milbank, unlike its predecessors, was determined to deliver on its promises. Wasn't he doing just that?

Several tenants privately say they would have preferred that Milbank instead start replacing broken windows and adding restrooms to each floor (currently they are between floors — a throwback to the building's 1931 construction).

And why, tenants asked, was this marble floor being torn up? John Hefner, 55, is a third generation tenant who is one of the few tenants willing to publicly say he's heard enough promises.

"What are the owners thinking?” Hefner asks. "The marble floor is part of that "A” quality. Why would the owners break up big squares of marble?”

Hefner and several other tenants I've spoken to worry whether the floor's destruction is evidence that the owners have no regard for the tower's history. They previously were upset when an attempt to increase rent on the tower's original barbershop ended with the tenants moving their booths elsewhere.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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This rendering shows the proposed changes to the entry at First National Tower — including new flooring. Provided by Milbank Real Estate


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