Charleston has 'new front porch'

Chris Dorst
People enjoy the newly remodeled Chase Tower plaza Wednesday at the reopening ceremony. The plaza is now open to the public after a decade of being closed.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  After going untouched for more than a decade, the Chase Tower plaza is now being referred to by some as "Charleston's new front porch."Officials and community members gathered Wednesday to celebrate the grand reopening of the plaza, which underwent major renovations as part of a $15 million plan for long-term improvements to the Chase building.The new and improved plaza, which links the tower to Kanawha Boulevard, is part of the first phase of renovations planned over the next three to four years, said the building's property manager, Andrew Santee.Last fall, New York-based Nightingale Realty purchased Chase Tower and decided to make renovations."This has been such a unique project to work on. It's essentially a park on top of a parking garage," Santee said.So unique that TerraCare, the Charleston-based design group that worked on the project, is submitting the plans for an award in its industry.Renovations to the plaza include removing trees and shrubbery and adding new lighting, seating and landscaping, including a wishing well in the center, costing a total of about $160,000, Santee said.Repairs also have been made to the building's windows and parking garage lighting, and about $340,000 was spent on repairing structural damage to an underground electrical equipment vault that could have potentially put downtown Charleston without power for weeks."Everything we've done thus far did not come out of our operating budget, which means it's not passed through common maintenance charges to tenants," Santee said. "This all came out of ownership's pocket to make it the No. 1 class A tower in Charleston." The first phase of renovations should be done within the next two months and will include new features on the elevators."Just last Tuesday, we were still patching potholes, and people were saying, 'He's not going to make it,'" Santee said. "We made it."The plaza will be open to the public during the day and monitored by security at night. The plaza is also available for private parties, and two reunions and a wedding already have been booked.Mayor Danny Jones attended the reopening ceremony and said the plaza holds a special place in his heart.When Jones was working in the downtown area nearly 40 years ago, the plaza was a safe haven from a hectic schedule, he said.
"About four decades ago, when work would get stressful, I'd hang out here and enjoy the night," he said. "Unfortunately, it closed. This is incredible."
Bryan Cokeley, managing member for Steptoe and Johnson, has worked in the building since the 1980s and said it's something the tenants of Chase Tower can all be proud of."Everyone wants to live in a nice neighborhood. Here, we've seen some ups and downs," he said. "As I've looked down at the plaza from my window over the years, it's been desolate. I've never seen this many smiles. It's a great day for our neighborhood."Additional renovations include interactive marquee signs, flat-screen televisions in the elevators and new LED lighting in the lobby, as well as tenant appreciation events.Reach Mackenzie Mays at or 304-348-5100.  
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