CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local officials can be thankful for much this holiday season, including the philanthropic efforts of Charleston resident Betty Schoenbaum.
Schoenbaum, 95, splits her time between homes in West Virginia and Florida. But the widow of the late hospitality giant Alex Schoenbaum has never forgotten Charleston and the surrounding area where she lived for so long.
Schoenbaum has donated millions of dollars to various causes around the world through the family's foundation. Many of her donations have helped fund major projects in Charleston and Kanawha County.
She would like to see more people follow her example.
"The joy of giving is the joy of living," a smiling Schoenbaum said. "Joy beyond description, that's what I get from giving."
And if that's the case, then Schoenbaum has experienced a lot of joy, because she has given a lot.
Charleston City Manager David Molgaard believes it would have been impossible for the city to tackle some projects — like constructing Schoenbaum Stage along the Kanawha River — without donations from the local philanthropist.
Molgaard said the city had opted not to place a stage at Haddad Riverfront Park in Charleston because the money was lacking. Then Schoenbaum offered about $350,000 to pay for construction of the now-iconic structure.
"I don't think that whole project would have been as dramatic or made nearly as much of an impression with people if we didn't have the stage," he said.
The city also ran short of funds during construction of the project, Molgaard said. Schoenbaum again stepped forward with the $78,000 needed to add decorative lighting to the stage.
The lights really make the stage "pop," he said.
The stage and lighting isn't just pretty, but also serves as an economic engine for downtown Charleston, he said. The stage is a prime venue for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the summer Live on the Levee Concert Series.
Both attract people to downtown Charleston, he said.
The stage and the riverfront park also have encouraged business development, Molgaard said. The investment in the riverfront shows businesses that city leaders, and residents, are serious about developing the downtown district.
Molgaard believes the millions of dollars in improvements at the old Charleston House Hotel on Kanawha Boulevard, currently branded as a Ramada Inn, were prompted by the city's and Schoenbaum's investments in the riverfront. When finished, the hotel will be a Four Seasons by Sheraton.
The owners of the hotel, BBL Hospitality, also have invested in a new restaurant on the Virginia Street side of the hotel, the Recovery Sports Grill.
The improvements to the hotel aren't the only investment Molgaard sees as a direct result of riverfront development.
"The announcement of the hotel at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers, I think resulted in the demonstration of the fact that the community is committed to bringing people into our town for events, conventions and festivals," he said.
Councilwoman Mary Jean Davis has become close friends with Schoenbaum over the years. They first met when the Schoenbaums donated money for one of the sculptures in front of the Charleston Civic Center.