Tiptop of Bank of America Plaza is private, ergo no-go


by By MARK NORRIS / The Dallas Morning News norrism@dallasnews.com


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 2:16 PM

It's more exclusive than any club in Dallas, and only a lofty few have access.

Jimmy Chiles of Telecom Properties Inc., which oversees much of the telecom equipment at the top of the Bank of America Plaza, tells the tale of the day he was in a dentist's chair on the 26th floor and two parachutists flew past from the top of the building.

To get there, they have to take two elevators, pass through three locked doors and walk up numerous stairs. Their reward: a heavenly view of the city like no other.

"I've always been a rooftop nut," said Jimmy Chiles, wind whipping as he stood atop the tallest building in Dallas - 921 feet in the air.

That would be Bank of America Plaza - the 72-story, green argon-lit building that defines the Dallas skyline. Chiles and a small number of his telecommunication employees and customers have access to the unobstructed views from the highest floor in the city. Even fewer - Chiles estimates just four - have access to the rooftop.

The public can't even get to the 72nd floor, which is only accessible via freight elevator and stairs.

But many are interested in the rooftop view. Security on the ground floor daily turns away people asking if they can go to the top.

"Sometimes I wonder if they should have put an observation deck somewhere," Chiles said.

Few get to top

Tourists aren't the only ones clamoring for the view. Chiles has received and turned down requests to use the 72nd floor for weddings and parties. Advertisers have asked to hang banners from the top of the building.

Chiles' communications company, Telecom Properties Inc., manages the space for various agencies and TV stations that have equipment and transmitters there. The company has been in the top spot with the primo view since the building opened to much fanfare in September 1985.

So imagine Chiles' surprise when, three months later, two men parachuted off the top of the building. He was sitting in a dentist's chair on the 26th floor when he suddenly saw something fly down.

He got out of the chair and went toward the window as the second man zipped by.

"That was scary, because his chute hadn't opened yet," Chiles said.

It did release in time, and Chiles and the dentist watched as the two landed - not so gracefully - southwest of the tower near John Neely Bryan's cabin.

To this day, Chiles doesn't know how the jumpers got to the top. At the time, it was suspected that either doors were left unlocked or that the sky-divers were aided by contractors with keys.

"But that couldn't happen now," he said.

Locked up tight

Doors to the two balconies on the 72nd floor, where the window-washing equipment rests, are locked and can only be opened by a select few.

Jerry Mull is one of the chosen. As general manager of Chiles' company, he has access to the 72nd floor and is on the roof almost daily checking on antennas and other equipment.

"It's fascinating to see the weather from up there," Mull said.

Both men said they go to the rooftop for business only, but they occasionally take a break to enjoy their surroundings: downtown Fort Worth is visible to the west, the University of North Texas campus can be seen northwest, and Lake Lavon sits to the north.

An earlier time

There's one small office on the top floor - and it is filled with telecommunications equipment. There are rows upon rows of transmitters, routers and locked metal cabinets. A closer look reveals the history of the building; older hardware is labeled with "InterFirst Plaza," the building's original name.

Every local TV station - along with the FBI, DART and the U.S. Postal Service - has transmitting equipment up there.

Technically, there is a 73rd floor, but it's more like an attic. There are no windows. Black plastic panels face out instead (you can see them at the top of the building if you squint).

It's only accessible via a small staircase and it's filled with microwave and satellite dishes.

Up on the roof, Chiles has a Web cam that his kids can access from home. It's a way of sharing the fantastic view their dad gets to see every day.

"This," Chiles said, "is the coolest place to work."