FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The future ownership of New York’s iconic Empire State Building rests in the hands of a little-known group: small investors like Aaron and Sima Aihini of Boynton Beach, Fla.

The couple, now in their 80s, bought a $10,000 stake decades ago in what was then the world’s tallest building. They reveled in taking their grandchildren to the 102-story skyscraper and telling them with pride, “We own it,” said Aaron, 80.

About 3,000 investors like the Aihinis will soon be asked to vote on whether to approve a plan by the building’s well-heeled operators to sell stock on Wall Street in the Empire State and 18 other buildings.

The small investors would be giving up certificates they bought in the early 1960s that have provided steady returns. Each certificate is now estimated to be worth at least $300,000.

Michael Caplan of Boca Raton, Fla., doesn’t want to give up that safe investment — at least not under the terms of the deal being offered by the powerful Malkin and Helmsley families that run the building.

He doesn’t feel the operators deserve half-ownership in the building that was appraised at $2.5 billion last year.

The Securities and Exchange Commission must approve proposals for the stock sale, then the small investors in the Empire State Building would vote. If 20 percent oppose the plan, they can stop the sale.