George Kaufman, Manhattan developer who revitalized major film studio, dies

Kaufman family has owned and managed commercial buildings in New York for more than a century
By Will Parker | February 22, 2018 01:25PM

George Kaufman

George Kaufman, a developer who managed one of New York’s largest commercial real estate companies and chaired the studio that houses “Sesame Street”, died Tuesday. He was 89.

Born into the business in 1928, Kaufman became president of the Kaufman Realty Corporation at the end of the 1950s. Under his leadership, the company acquired or built dozens of commercial and residential properties in and around New York City and elsewhere throughout the ensuing decades. The Kaufman Organization now owns or manages more than 7 million square feet of property in New York.

In 1982, the real estate scion took perhaps the biggest risk of his career by acquiring the ramshackle Astoria Studios. The property was once the main studio for Paramount Pictures in the 1920s and 1930s, and when Paramount moved to Hollywood, it was used by the US Army for 30 years. Kaufman’s investment, which included a 15-building plan, also marked the beginning of the wider redevelopment of northwest Queens, which has seen an influx of film and television studios as well as market-rate housing in recent years.

“When we first redeveloped the studio back in 1980, the plan was not only to build a world-class film and television production center that would continue the studio’s legacy and bring more productions to New York, but to also revitalize this corner of Astoria,” Kaufman told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. The property has been the location of iconic shows such as “Sesame Street.”

Kaufman is survived by his wife, Mariana, and a daughter, Cynthia.

“George was so much more than a real estate developer,” Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of Kaufman Astoria Studios, said. “He was a visionary who saw the promise of film and television production work in New York long before it became an integral part of the City’s economy.”

“George’s significant impact will live on in the lives he touched and the contributions he made to New York City,” said Steven J. Kaufman, the Kaufman Organization’s current president. “He will be sorely missed.”

In 2014, the company bought four ground leases from Extell Development at properties formerly owned by Michael Ring in a deal valued at $150 million. Last year, it acquired the ground lease for 236 Fifth Avenue.