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Developers Reimagine a Chicago Landmark

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

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One of the world’s tallest buildings and an icon in Chicago’s skyline will undergo a $500 million transformation, developers have announced.

“Our goal is to restore Willis Tower to its original prominence and make it a must-visit destination” for tenants, tourists and residents, said Jon Gray, head of Real Estate Blackstone, the group that purchased the former Sears Tower building in 2015.

Willis Tower
Photos courtesy of Real Estate Blackstone

Chicago's Willis Tower will undergo a $500 million upgrade, the first major facelift in the building's 43-year history.

The investment plans to set a “bold new standard for office environments and urban centers around the world,” Gray noted, and is the developer’s largest project to date.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel accompanied the developers in announcing the project Feb. 1.

The transformation will be the first major renovation in the building’s 43-year history.


Stretching 1,450 feet and 110 stories into the sky, the 4.56 million-square-foot office building opened in 1973, designed by architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.  

The building construction used enough concrete to make an eight-lane, five-mile-long highway, according to project details. Sears sold and moved out of the building in 1988 and it was renamed the Willis Tower, after Willis Group Holdings, the global insurance broker, in 2009.

In 2013, the Willis Tower was displaced by One World Trade Center in New York City as the country’s tallest building.

Iconic Facelift

The plan includes reconfiguring approximately 460,000 square feet of existing space. Approximately 150,000 square feet will be for exclusive tenant use, including a fitness center, expansive lounges, and event space and concierge services.

A new, three-story glass structure will be situated atop the existing stone plaza. Inside will feature more than 300,000 square feet of new retail, dining and entertainment space, including a new 30,000-square-foot outdoor deck

The glass facade will allow for “unobstructed views” of all 110 floors, details relate.


The upgrade plans include a three-story glass structure atop the current plaza.

Another focus of the renovation is to enhance the Tower’s 103rd floor Skydeck Chicago experience, which draws 1.7 million visitors per year.

Work is scheduled to begin this month and is anticipated to create 2,500 jobs.

Mayor Emanuel told the Chicago Sun Times that the renovation will soften some of the building’s hard lines. Other goals include creating a modern, livable work environment and re-energizing the downtown.

The Players

Equity Office is overseeing the redevelopment. Blackstone and Equity Office’s vision for the new Willis Tower was brought to life by the Chicago office of Gensler, a global San Francisco-based design firm.

Gonzalez Architects designed the tenant-only office amenities and Los Angeles-based Hetzel Design is overseeing the design concepts for the Skydeck changes.

Design-build firm Turner Clayco will oversee construction.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Commercial / Architectural; Construction; Developers; Historic Structures; Office Buildings; Project Management; Renovation

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