The elevators do break down, which is a big problem in a 25-floor building. The parking garage needs repairs, and so does the heating system – and depending on which expert you ask, maybe the plumbing. Management told WSBT the building is about half full, and there is concern more tenants could leave.
One tenant still there is Brent Shepherd. He owns a software company with 16 employees. Walk into Shepherd's corner office on the 19th floor and you can see why he would prefer not to leave. The day we visited, the sun was shining, offering a gorgeous view of Notre Dame's glistening golden dome. Shepherd says most days the elevators do work, but when they break down it is bad for
"We have had some instances where we have sent people home because they could not get upstairs, because the elevators were all not working", said Shepherd.
So why are the Chase Tower's problems not being addressed? The owner of the tower is a Massachusetts developer named Damian Pettinelli, at least his name is still on the deed. Pettinelli is facing personal financial problems if the Chase Tower does not sell for a certain price. He would not tell WSBT what that price is, but we do know the Tower is listed for $8.3 million.
That listing price only tells part of the financial story. A buyer would likely install new elevators, fix the parking garage and make
other repairs. That developer would also likely need to invest even more money if they plan to make more changes to the building. There is no question beyond whatever the sale price of the tower, fixing up the building would cost millions more. This combination of factors makes this a tough deal to get done.
There are potential buyers interested, but because of the millions in repairs that would need to be made on top of the sale price, some think the city needs to pitch in taxpayer money, or risk losing the tallest building in the heart of downtown South Bend to disrepair and irrelevance.
Common Councilman Henry Davis is one person who believes the city needs to invest in the Chase Tower, and believes the mayor's office is not being aggressive enough.
"Market this building as being one of the better buildings in northern Indiana, to bring in the traffic that is needed to continue on with the downtown growth,” Davis told WSBT.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is prepared to support using some city aid to turnaround the Chase Tower. He is not getting specific on how much money, primarily because there is no buyer in place.
"This is an important building it is iconic, it is right in the heart of our city,” Buttigieg said. “So it justifies some city participation. What I will not do is write big blank checks to a deal that is not a sure thing.”
The mayor is very critical of Huntington National Bank, based in Ohio. The Chase Tower is in receivership, so the bank wields financial power.
However, WSBT has learned the asking price is not necessarily the bank's doing. Deed holder Pettinelli is a key figure in setting that price. What that means is Pettinelli could be the key figure to getting a deal done. Pettinelli joins the mayor in being critical of the bank. He thinks as the receiver they should be releasing more money so the building can be fixed up. The reality is under this scenario, every day the Chase Tower goes without getting a new owner there is a risk the price of repairs will go up.
Brent Shepherd does not want to leave, and is reasonably optimistic it will not come to that. Shepherd estimates it might cost $40,000 to move his business. He also knows at some point if the elevators are not replaced, he might have to leave, and says he likely would not stay in downtown South Bend.
Should it bother you if a business leaves the Chase Tower for, as an example, Mishawaka? After all, the jobs are not leaving the area. One of downtown South Bend's main attractions is the South Bend Chocolate Company. Company president Mark Tarner warns minimizing the importance of the Chase Tower is a mistake.
"I do not see the city as growing and expanding and maybe the Chase Tower is a symbol of that," Tarner told WSBT.
The Chase Tower may be important, but is it important enough to justify taxpayer money to get a deal done, and if so, how much? South Bend's mayor and Common Council could soon be facing those questions.