Sears Tower is no more.
The 110-story Chicago giant, the nation's tallest building, will be renamed Willis Tower under a leasing deal. The New York-based owners signed a lease with Willis Group Holdings, a London-based insurance broker, for 140,000 square feet.
Willis said it will consolidate five Chicago-area offices and move 500 employees into the tower. The company said it is paying $14.50 per square foot in rent and that the naming rights come with no additional cost.
The relocation is expected to be done by late summer.
"Having our name associated with Chicago's most iconic structure underscores our commitment to this great city, and recognizes Chicago's importance as a major financial hub and international business center," said Joseph Plumeri, chairman of Willis Group Holdings.
But discord over the deal and the renaming emerged immediately. The tower's owners were irritated that Willis publicized terms of the lease.
A spokesman for the owners said, "We are very pleased with the financial terms of this new lease. The details that have been disclosed are not a complete picture of the agreement. We view the economic terms to be proprietary information, and do not reveal those for any of our transactions." A tenant at the tower, architect Daniel Coffey, said the renaming "is beyond the pale of stupid" because Sears Tower is recognized worldwide. "It's awful. No one knows who Willis is even in Europe,'' said Coffey, principal of Daniel P. Coffey & Associates Ltd. He said he has two years left on his lease and that the renaming could lead him to move.
Real estate experts wondered why the tower's owners handed naming rights to a tenant that will take only 3.5 percent of the 3.8-million-square-foot building. In 2005, naming rights were on the table in lease talks with computer seller CDW Corp., which was a potentially bigger tenant. CDW wound up at 120 S. Riverside.
Sears Tower opened in 1973 as the corporate headquarters for Sears Roebuck & Co., but the company left for Hoffman Estates in 1992. Its rights to the name on the tower expired a few years ago.
Willis said it will consolidate offices at 10 S. LaSalle, 1 E. Wacker and
222 N. Riverside, along with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard.
Since 2004, Sears Tower has been owned by a group led by New York investors Joseph Chetrit, Joseph Moinian and Steve Bederman and including Yisroel Gluck and John Huston of Skokie-based American Landmark Properties Ltd.
The Sun-Times has reported that the owners are considering another radical change to the tower, recoating it silver. The move could save energy as well as promote other changes the building is making in a bid to win new tenants.