Chicago's Sears Tower renamed Willis Tower

Friday, July 17, 2009

On July 16, 2009, the largest skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois was officially renamed Willis Tower. Willis Group Holdings became a major tenant of the building in March, 2009. As part of the deal whereby they agreed to lease 140,000 square feet of the building, they were given the naming rights to the tower, which had been known as the Sears Tower since its opening in 1973. It is the largest skyscraper in the United States and was for a time the largest skyscraper in the world; though it has since been surpassed.

Willis Tower in Chicago, formerly the Sears Tower. Picture taken in 1998 by Soakologist.

Sears, Roebuck and Company owned the building from its conception until it sold it in 1994. It is currently owned by American Landmark Properties of Skokie, Illinois. Sears had mostly moved out of the building by 1992, and closed its last offices there by 1995. However, they retained the naming rights until 2003. Since no deal had been worked out to rename the building by that date, it retained the Sears Tower name until Willis Group Holdings negotiated the naming rights as part of their lease on the building. The naming rights did not cost Willis any additional money, and they will retain those rights until at least 2024.

Willis Group Holdings is a London-based insurance company, incorporated in Bermuda. They are leasing 140,000 square feet of the building at a rate of $14.50 per square foot, and are consolidating their five Chicago-area offices to the new space.

Though lettering on the building had been changed on July 15, the official change did not occur until July 16, during a private ceremony involving 500 Willis employees and invited guests. The date and time name change was kept quiet until the actual lettering was changed, though the change was anticipated for several months. The tourist areas to the building, which includes a 103rd floor observation deck, will retain its current name, Skydeck Chicago.

The renaming has received some criticism from columnists in local papers, such as the Chicago Tribune, as Willis has almost no name recognition in the Chicago area. Several local residents have expressed their displeasure in the renaming, including one who started the website Chicago Historical Society senior curator John Russick has stated of the name change, "The Sears Tower has been an icon here for the last quarter of a century. For the generation that grew up calling it the Sears Tower, it'll be hard for people to shift and start calling it something else."