Miki Naftali is CEO and president of the Elad Group — a real estate and hotel development conglomerate based in Israel — and its New York-based subsidiary, Elad Properties. Naftali’s signature project is the Plaza Hotel, which Elad purchased in 2004 for $675 million and spent $500 million to renovate. Elad is also planning to erect a 3,000-room Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas. And along with its partners, the firm is in the midst of building a $1.1 billion hotel, residential and retail development in Singapore called Beach Road.
What is your full name?
Samuel Harvey Lindenbaum.
Why do people call you Sandy?
I had blond hair as a child.
What is your date of birth?
March 29, 1935.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brooklyn, in the Crown Heights section.
Where do you live now?
[In a co-op at] 998 Fifth Avenue at 81st Street, across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s very convenient.
Are you a big art lover?
Yes. My wife [Linda] and I do collect.
What’s your favorite piece?
I have two. One is an artistic favorite — “Femme Nue Sur Un Lit,” a 1907 Picasso, which is a study for “Nude with Drapery.” My sentimental favorite is a 1962 crayon on paper [from a sketchbook] by Picasso. It’s dedicated to my wife. It says “Pour Linda,” but it was “poor” Sandy, because it cost me all of my bar mitzvah savings to buy it.
How did you become interested in art?
They didn’t teach art in my high school in Brooklyn. After [Harvard] law school, a classmate said, “Let’s go to an art gallery.” His mother was looking at a painting. It was a Picasso. I said, “This is the craziest thing in the world.”
How often do you go to the Met?
At least once a week, and sometimes more. We go to a lot of the openings. We have a house in East Hampton, but on Saturday and Sunday mornings when we’re in town, my wife is always [slower than] me getting dressed, so I’ll run over to the Met for an hour. Or if for some reason I get finished with a meeting early, I run over … because it’s right across the street.
How did you meet your wife?
My wife and I met at Camp With-A-Wind [in Pennsylvania] when she was 14 and I was 16. I was a counselor-in-training. I lived in the head counselor’s [office.] One day a girl counselor comes and says, “Call the doctor, one of our girls got hit in the head with a baseball.” The infirmary was locked so they put her in the office. I went and there was a beautiful blond chick in my bed. So I literally met my wife in my bed.
How many children and grandchildren do you have?
We have two married daughters and six grandchildren, ranging in age from 8 to 22. The oldest just graduated from Princeton.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
My father [Abraham "Bunny" Lindenbaum] was a lawyer, so I didn’t know any better.
How did you become a land-use attorney?
The Tisch brothers, Larry and Bob, they were building six Loews Hotels in the early ’60s. They had a zoning problem. They came to see us and my father said, “We’ll take care of it.” When they left, he turned to me and said, “Go take care of it.” I said, “What do you mean, I have no idea what you guys were talking about!” He said, “You’re not going to make a liar out of your father, go take care of it.” So I took out the zoning resolutions and believe it or not, I figured it out.
Did you know then that that’s what you wanted to do?
I loved it from day one. It was exciting, it was creative. I can get in the car with you and on almost every block I can tell you what building [we're looking at] and how it got there. To some extent, that skyline is there because of what I did.
What projects are you proudest to be associated with?
Trump Tower. Park Avenue Plaza. The Museum of Modern Art. I did a lot of work on Rockefeller Center — that’s fun work.
Because you’re taking an asset that was to some extent faded and rejuvenating it. [That may be] getting the big NBC store approved or reopening the [Top of the Rock Observation Deck], which had been closed since World War II, in a way that makes sense in the 21st century, with more than a few deck chairs and a few guys in sailor suits.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in real estate. Who was the most colorful character?
I’ve had fun with them all in different ways. I guess my favorite to work with was Harry Helmsley. He had eyes like a slot machine. I could see the wheels turning in his head, and every time [they] stopped, the two eyes would say jackpot. Donald Trump was always very creative in his thinking. Harry Macklowe has great foresight. Steve Roth of Vornado — I would work with for nothing just to be in the same room with him. He’s absolutely brilliant.
Your father worked for Donald Trump’s father. What’s your relationship with The Donald like?
His father’s legal fees to my father paid my way through college. People ask when I first started representing Donald Trump, and I say when he was in short pants.