Chase builds on her family's real estate empire

BY Wendy Pierman Mitzel
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever

Cheryl Chase

Company: Chase Enterprises

Title: Co-President and General Counsel

Size of organization: Approximately 50 people in CT; 215 employees total including New York and Florida

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Tufts University (English and history); Law degree from UConn Law School

You could say that when Cheryl Chase takes on a project, she leaves her fingerprints behind.

From hotel color schemes, to boat slip design to negotiations for the Connecticut Science Center, Chase continues to be an integral part of the family-run Chase Enterprises and the Hartford community.

"She's very bright and insightful," said Matt Fleury, president and CEO of the Connecticut Science Center, where Chase has been chair of the board of directors since it opened. "When she commits to something she commits with all her heart. And you get not only her passion and advice, but her time and generosity as well."

Chase is general counsel and now co-president of Chase Enterprises along with her brother, Arnold. They moved into the roles after their father's passing last year. David Chase, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, built Chase Enterprises from the ground up after immigrating to Hartford in 1946 as a teenager. Cheryl Chase joined her father in the real estate development and investment business after graduating from the UConn School of Law in 1979, and moved quickly into leading the legal team.

With 213 employees in New York, Connecticut and Florida, the privately held company is known for shaping the Hartford skyline and developing modern buildings like One Financial Plaza, or the "Gold Building," the "Stilts Building" on Church Street and 280 Trumbull St.

"My dad was very welcoming and respectful of my roles," she said. "He taught me you have to try everything before you succeed. Try every door. Try every window. Go through the chimney until you get what you want."

Chase thrived on the details and procedures, and worked to make sure all business was "done right." While many of her peers were staying home to raise families, she continued to do both. Her daughter, Dara, and son, Landon, are now part of the business, as is Arnold's son, William.

The first big project Chase negotiated was a deal with Poland to develop cable services in 1999, providing access to 1.5 million people across the country as it transitioned from communism to capitalism. Because of Chase Enterprises' work in the communications industry and her father's ancestry, they were asked to lead the way.

"It was such an oddball thing," she said. "I brought MTV Europe, news and democracy to Poland. What 'could be' became no longer a dream for them, once they had good communications."

In the early 2000s, she developed Mountain Estates, 45 custom homes in Bloomfield, relying on the advice of real estate brokers and tailor-made to market needs. She used her art studies and art collecting background to design and even name the streets after artists.

More recently, Chase was deeply involved in renovating a Florida hotel Chase Enterprises first acquired in 1970. Now called the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort, the 172-room hotel features lighting, decorating features and even a website handpicked by Chase herself.

Chase capitalized on the location, highlighting the views, adding dining options and focusing on the female traveler by recognizing security needs and lighting.

"I was there for the whole shebang, and I loved it. I took a risk and put a lot of money into it," she said. "But I knew what I liked. And I worked with Wyndham to make sure the franchise performed."

Chase also redeveloped the Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach, Fla., researching European marina techniques and creating a high-end brand. A hotel is in the works.

While Chase has focused on reviewing and renovating current holdings and investments, many out of state, she keeps an eye on the potential for Connecticut developments.

"There is a movement and momentum to have a better business atmosphere and I'm cautiously optimistic," she said.

Chase said her company is committed to remain headquartered in Hartford.

Chase Enterprises is also well-known for its philanthropic endeavors. Cheryl Chase is passionate about Foodshare and the Walk to End Hunger, as well as continuing to support the Science Center. She champions many other charities through the foundation created with her husband, Stuart Bear, a former appellate judge. She serves on the board of directors for the Wadsworth Atheneum and UConn Health.

"You don't always see generosity transition among generations as it does with the Chase family," said Fleury. "There is a certain character to the way they handle everything they've achieved."

He said Cheryl Chase once gave board members each a bottle of champagne before a fundraiser gala, encouraging them to go the extra mile and celebrate as a team at the end of the night. Chase said teamwork is key to success.

"We are able to accomplish anything because we have some amazing men and women," she said. "We've grown up together, really. There's a lot of longevity in our employees. Some have been here 20 to 30 years. We've gone through marriages, divorces, births, remarriages and parental deaths together."

On the job

Guiding business principle: Be persistent; don't give up.

Best way to keep your competitive edge: Develop our brand to be best in class.

Proudest accomplishment: Working alongside my father and brother throughout the years. In addition, I'm proud that my two children and nephew are involved in our business.

Favorite part of the job: Seeing projects from their inception come to life after hard work and determination.

Least favorite part of the job: Anything that impedes our developments. In today's world, starting a new enterprise can be so complex that any preconceived notion of timetables usually needs to be adjusted.

Personal touch in your office: I love having many pictures of my family in my office. I have also decorated my office with wonderful pieces of contemporary art.

Judgment calls

Best business decision: Renovating and repositioning both Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort Hotel in Deerfield Beach, Fla. and Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Best way to spot trends: Reading. The best thing I can do every day is read articles and follow trends to ascertain new areas of interest for investments.

Next big move: We have a boutique hotel in development.

Your pet peeve: People who say that they can't do something.

Personal side

City of residence: West Hartford

Favorite way to relax: After work I enjoy being at home with my husband and watching TV, or reading an art book. It's not unusual for me to go into the office the next day and reference something that has happened in an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" or "Modern Family."

Hobbies: Besides my personal art collection, I enjoy going to museums and the theater.

Last vacation: An art show in Europe with my husband that we attend every year.