Terry Hood, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma -- California philanthropist and inventor Maurice Kanbar invested more than $100 million in 18 downtown buildings in the mid-2000's. Since then, some buildings have been sold, others demolished.
But Kanbar still owns up to 30 percent of all commercial space in downtown Tulsa. He's never spoken publicly about his investment, until Thursday, when he sat down with News On 6 for an exclusive television interview.
Kanbar is an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word. His inventions range from lint removers to medical products to vodka.
"I've always liked the city, the people, the general environment, the work ethic," Kanbar said. "You know, people work here, they're not joining some group to protest something."
In fact, Maurice Kanbar was so taken by his first visit to Tulsa 25 years ago, he almost made the city home. While the lure of the ocean eventually led him to the west coast, Kanbar kept a soft spot for Tulsa, and in 2005, he began to back up his initial interest with cold, hard cash.
Beyond downtown, he says he would like to see the entire city thrive.
"Let's keep jobs here in America, that's goal number one for me," he said. "If there's something I could do to make things better here and make people more prosperous, I would be delighted to do that."
Kanbar is famous for thinking outside the box. He has close to 40 inventions to his credit. Perhaps most famously, he created Skyy vodka, and is getting ready to launch a new brand called Blue Angel. He's also working on affordable glasses for people in third world countries.
"I know a lot about optics, ok?" he said. "So I designed the mold for these frames."
He's also working on a new kind of lentil and rice mixture that will soon be marketed at whole foods.
"We have never been turned down by any supermarket that's tasted it," he said.
And two new movies are also in the works. As for his $100 million investment in Tulsa, Kanbar is again looking west for inspiration, this time to Colorado. He says Denver's revitalized downtown could be a model for Tulsa.
"Find out who the guy was who set this up, let's hire them," he said. "Bring them to Tulsa and say, 'Here's a town, give us your suggestions and advice on how did you accomplish that?'"
Kanbar's group has already launched a move to revitalize what's being called Tulsa's "deco district". The goal is to have street level restaurants and shops and an announcement on a couple of big tenants could be coming soon.
Kanbar hopes the rising economy will help fuel the plan and he also harbors a secret wish.
"I pray that somebody hits a hole and drills oil, because that would make this a boom town," he said. "But let me say this, as a long term investment, it can't miss."
Just last month, Kanbar settled a lawsuit with his former business partner concerning the downtown Tulsa property.