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Route 66 News

Chicago’s Willis Tower sold for $1.3 billion

Willis Tower, Chicago

Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, still called the Sears Tower by many Windy City residents, was sold for $1.3 billion to New York investment firm Blackstone Group last week.

The price tag for the 110-story building — the second-tallest in the United States — was the highest for any office building outside New York City.

The firm that bought the tower in 2004 was beset from the git-go from office vacancies, the Great Recession, and tenants who were still skittish after 9/11. Now it’s realizing a tidy profit of almost a half-billion dollars.

Amid the hubbub of the buyout was this bit of good news:

When Blackstone officially takes over, the investment firm plans to spend an estimated $150 million to upgrade the tower’s retail space and its famous Skydeck, the 103rd-floor observatory that commands sweeping views of Chicago, particularly from the glass-cube “ledges” that jut out 4.3 feet from the building. […]

“We see great potential in further improving both the building’s retail operations and the tourist experience for one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Chicago,” Mr. Werner of Blackstone said.

There’s money to be made, apparently. According to the New York Times, the Empire State Building gets half of its revenue from tourism.

A good chunk of those tourists are Route 66 travelers beginning their treks west. If they’re feeling brave, they’ll do this on the Skydeck:

It remains uncertain whether the Willis Tower will change its name again. Even though Sears sold the tower more than a quarter-century ago, Chicagoans have proved resistant to the Willis Tower name — which came through a naming-rights agreement in 2009 — and mocked it.

The Sears Tower was built in 1973. In a bit less than a decade, it should be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

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