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Tenants at downtown high-rise peeved at elevator glitches

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Broken elevators at a downtown Charleston high-rise are becoming more than an inconvenience as tenants in the building complain they are losing business.

Mark Hunt has gotten used to trudging up the concrete stairs in the hot stairwell at 405 Capitol St. where his law office is located.

Hunt, who also hold a Kanawha County seat in the House of Delegates, makes the walk up to his office on the 10th floor at least once a day, and more often if he has outside appointments or leaves for lunch.

Hunt's clients, on the other hand, haven't gotten used to the hike.

For months, only one of the four elevators at the old Daniel Boone Hotel was operational. The last one failed last week, leaving the building's tenants with little option but to climb the stairs to their offices or stay home.

"It's been very difficult on my business," Hunt said Tuesday. "I've had a couple of calls to make home visits because they couldn't meet with me here in the office."

Hunt said he prefers to meet with clients in his office. It's safer that way and he also has all of his supplies on hand. But some clients have not been able to make it to his office because they cannot climb the stairs.

Built in the late 1920s, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was renovated in the 1980s and converted from a hotel into an office building. Two glass elevators were installed to supplement the hotel's two main elevators in the lobby.

The old elevators have not been operational in years. A few months ago one of the glass elevators stopped working, leaving the tenants with only one working elevator.

Hunt said the elevators were old and operated with analog systems. Newer elevators are entirely computerized.

The lawyer said to his knowledge the non-working elevator was being "cannibalized" for parts to service the working elevator.

But that elevator has since failed, leaving Hunt and the other tenants in a bind. He believed the building was about 95 percent occupied.

Hunt said the building's management sent out a memo closing the building to tenants until the elevator was repaired, but a group of tenants, mostly lawyers, told the management they could not close their businesses for an undetermined period of time.

The next memo said working in the building was optional, he said.  

An employee in the building's management office told a reporter to speak with the building manager, who was out of the office until Monday.    

Hunt has been a tenant for about a year and pays $3,000 a month in rent. He said he was "a little disgruntled."  

"I have employees who aren't in the greatest of health and employees who are in great health," Hunt said. "I'll be honest with you, it's a challenge for me.

"I think the bad news is no one knows when they will get them fixed."

He speculated the building's owner would be liable for any injuries or health problems suffered by tenants using the steps. He also said the building likely was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some of the building's tenants can't access their offices without the elevators.

Larry Swann has not been in his fifth-floor office since the elevator stopped working.

Swann, a lobbyist and former minority leader in the House of Delegates, is a polio survivor and walks with the aid of crutches. He's been working from his home, his car and coffee shops around Charleston instead of the office he's worked out of since 1991.

He said he's outraged he hasn't been able to get to work.

"I'm extremely upset with the ownership of the building for allowing all the elevators to fall into such disrepair," Swann said. "None of them have been working for a week.

"If you're paying rent, you expect to be able to get to your office, whether you're a disabled person or a non-disabled person. It's appalling the way they've ignored their fiduciary responsibility to provide safe and accessible office space for their tenants."

He said he was forced to relocate a meeting with a major client Thursday to a coffee shop up the street.

"It's just not professional looking," Swann said.

Swann said when the elevators ran, they were "jerky" and sometimes stopped suddenly between floors.

The building is home to several law firms, dentists and more than a few government offices including those of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The building also houses one of Sen. Jay Rockefeller's state offices. A spokesman said that office is maintained to provide accessibility to the senator's constituents. He said they were aware of the problem and had notified building management.

Hunt said the building's staff, many of whom have worked there since the renovations, are good people who are doing the best they can to help tenants. Staff members have been shuttling mail to the offices, he said.

"This is a good building other than the elevator situation," Hunt said. "The elevator problem is a nightmare. It's costing me business."

He said he thinks the problem lies with the building's owners.

The building currently is owned and operated by Midtown Center Associates in Pennsylvania.

When a reporter tried to call Larry Lesser, a partner in the company, she identified herself only to be told, "No, I'm sorry," and be disconnected. A second call went to voicemail.

Hunt said the building was in the process of being sold to Matrix Holdings, a real estate private capital firm in Ohio. Patrick Gates, principal owner of Matrix, said his firm had not purchased the building and is not in control of it. He would not comment further.

It was not clear when the elevators would be repaired.

One building tenant who did not want to be named said he could see the parking spot used by the elevator repair crew from his ninth-floor office. The spot was empty Tuesday and had been for most of the day.

When asked if he had heard when the elevator would be operational, Swann said, "Who knows? They said it was going to be fixed last week, Monday, today, tomorrow.

"Who knows?"

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at or 304-348-4850.


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