A high-profile downtown tower is set to undergo a massive makeover and become home to one of Chattanooga's biggest law firms.
Chestnut Tower, one of the city's tallest buildings, will get a $20 million revamp, said Chattanooga businessman Jim Berry, whose company bought the 17-story structure at Chestnut and Sixth streets.
The Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel law firm will shift its offices to the site from Tallan Financial Center and become the building's flagship tenant, he said.
"It's a golden opportunity," said Berry, chairman and chief executive of Republic Parking System.
The building will be renamed Liberty Tower, he said.
One of his companies, JBC Inc., bought the 192,000-square-foot building for $4 million from Tower Two Associates, an entity with ties to developer Franklin Haney, he said.
"It was too good a deal to pass up," Berry said.
Dana Perry, the Chattanooga law firm's president and managing shareholder, said the firm will lease four continuous floors of office space, or 43,000 square feet.
Perry said the firm's 70 lawyers and 96 nonattorney staff will have technology and energy-saving advantages in the renovated tower when they move in late 2012 and early 2013.
"We considered a number of options" of where to move, Perry said, including outside the central business district.
Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group RiverCity Co., said the Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel decision to remain in the central city "says a lot about downtown."
Berry's investment is significant because it will bring more top-flight office space to the city's core, she said.
Chestnut Tower was built in 1979 by developer Franklin Haney, who has been active inside and outside Chattanooga for many years.
It's estimated that Haney has developed more than 15 million square feet of apartments, hotels, parking garages and office buildings in his career.
Berry said acquiring Chestnut Tower gives his companies the entire downtown block. The 21-story Republic Centre building, where his parking company is headquartered, sits at Chestnut and Seventh streets.
"The first thing we're going to do is change the outside appearance," Berry said about Liberty Tower.
Steven Billingsley of Billingsley Architecture said a vital part of the makeover will be larger and more energy-efficient windows. Plans are to seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design status for the project, he said.
A main entrance will be constructed on Chestnut Street as well as an improved lobby. The top of the building will receive new treatment as well, officials said.
Inside, Berry said, the building will be refurbished to the concrete base.
One key improvement will be a pedestrian walkway from Liberty Tower over Sixth Street to a parking garage his company owns next to the downtown YMCA, he said.
Ronnie Williams, senior vice president of JBC Inc., said it likely will be 90 to 120 days before work starts in earnest. It could take two to three years before all the work is done, he said.
ABOUT JIM BERRY
* Reared: Houlka, Miss.
* Job: Chairman and CEO of Republic Parking System, which has more than 690 sites under management totaling more than 260,000 parking spaces nationwide.
* Recognitions: 1994 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year; civilian Armed Forces Day parade chairman
* Quote: "It was too good a deal to pass up." - About the purchase of Chestnut Tower for $4 million
Across Chestnut Street, Berry said, his company already is redoing a small parking garage. On one corner, a small park is planned, he said.
Steve Hunt, managing partner of the real estate company Berry & Hunt, said that while the building largely will be vacant, it still can accommodate tenants.
Volkswagen, which has leased space in the structure until early next year, gradually is moving office personnel to its assembly plant site at Enterprise South industrial park.
Berry said the investment in the building is risky, but there's risk even in better economic times.
He said his parking company does business across the nation, but Chattanooga has a strong core of companies in its downtown. In addition, Berry said, the city is "on a roll of sorts."
"I don't think it will be difficult to fill up the building eventually," he said.
Berry said he picked the Liberty Tower name because it complements Republic Centre.