Kislak chose the Library of Congress over other institutions because he saw it as the best place where the prized collection could be mined by scholars.
“It’s a wonderful collection,” said Dr. John B. Carlson, director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy at the University of Maryland and an expert in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica who taps the Kislak collection regularly in his studies. “He was successful in this legacy. The world is full of people with money. A lot of them don’t do much with it. In the end, some people give back to their culture. Others just continue to take.”
Kislak is more pragmatic about his philanthropy:
“It has to be somewhere when we’re gone,” he said. “And we ran out of space.” He said a lot of the larger items were in storage in downtown Miami.
Kislak’s philanthropy and collecting are enabled by his business success, but like many, his enterprise took its licks during the recession. His business emerged better than most.
“We weathered the downturn because we had our projects spread out and we were relatively conservative,” said CEO Bartelmo.
Kislak lost its equity in a multifamily project in Las Vegas and “gave it back to lenders,” Bartelmo said.
Another bad deal unfolded in the company’s backyard: Kislak joined developer Weitzer Communities as an equity partner in Tao condominium towers in Sunrise, only to have unit buyers walk away from contracts in the downturn.
“We lost our equity,” said Bartelmo.
But the downturn also brought opportunities. With demand for rental housing strong and rents on the rise, Kislak’s company in January bought three apartment complexes in Pensacola from Ocean Bank, which had taken over a soured condo conversion. Kislak fixed up the distressed properties, some 481 rental units, and owns and manages them.
“Kislak got a good business deal, but we worked hard at it,” said Bartelmo.
In July, the company bought a 192-unit apartment project in Pinellas Park, boosting its apartment holdings to about 2,800 units. Kislak is in the hunt to buy more apartments, but large institutional investors willing to accept lower returns have outbid Kislak.
“Multifamily is a sector that’s got a lot of money chasing it,” Bartelmo said. “We’re a family business. It’s family money. We’re going to require a bigger return, a little more yield.”
In another adaptation to the times, Kislak has put together funds of property-tax certificates for investors. The funds of tax-lien certificates, acquired by paying delinquent taxes to local property tax collectors, have provided a good return in a low-interest environment.
Kislak is cautiously optimistic about the outlook for real estate.
“There are signs of a recovery. But I don’t know how you can have a real recovery with the shadow market hanging out there,” he said. “Until you get rid of that, you really cannot have a recovery in the housing market. I don’t know how far off that is.”
As for South Florida: “I still think there are a lot of opportunities here,” he added.
Kislak, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, was born into real estate. In 1906, his father started the brokerage business, which is big in commercial real estate in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.