Israelis Eye and Buy Top-Notch Manhattan Icons

IN REAL-ESTATE CIRCLES, A POPULAR question for all foreign investors is whether they’re longtime city investors or whether they’re here to buy and cash out. Dubai’s Istithmar, for instance, has sold real-estate holdings at 280 Park Avenue and 230 Park Avenue this year, raising suspicions that the sheikhdom’s ruling family, which controls the firm, may soon leave the city altogether.

Mr. Yardeni, who has been in the city for 21 years, believes recent Israeli investors might have short visits.

“Their expectation is to sell in the next two or three years,” said Mr. Yardeni. “If you look at Israeli investments in the last decade, they are not long-term operations like Tishman Speyer.

“If you’re thinking they’re dynasties for the next 150 years, I don’t think this is—in my mind—accurate,” he said later.

But Mr. Rosen insists that the Times Building and the Clock Tower are not short-term investments. Mr. Rosen said the fact the company bought what are essentially two empty buildings—both of which need to be renovated—is evidence of Africa Israel U.S.A.’s commitment.

“Most people look at us and ask why we’re buying empty buildings when those are harder to finance,” he said. “We do not look in the eyes of traditional investors. When we have an opportunity, we will grab it no matter what.”

He said Africa Israel will follow plans laid out by former owners SL Green, Aby Rosen and Ian Schrager, and convert the Clock Tower to residential units.

He also said that offers for their new properties have stormed in, but insists that Mr. Leviev will expand his city portfolio, not contract it.

“Mr. Leviev will continue to invest here very heavily and expand more and more and more,” he said. “We are not short-term investors. It’s very important that everybody should know we are not day traders. We are long-term investors and looking for opportunities to buy to make us stronger and stronger in this market.”

If they stay, will they also go the way of Tishman Speyer or other famous real-estate moguls and raise kids into the family business?

Mr. Rosen said he would not comment on Mr. Leviev’s private life, but said that the billionaire had nine children, some of whom are already in the real-estate business.

Mr. Yardeni, the longtime Israeli property owner, said he has three children, and hopes they all get into the business. If they do, they’ll stay right here and buy into the city.

“I’m a firm believer in Manhattan,” he said. “I think that prices are only going to increase. This is the goldmine. This is the best place in the world.”