United moves operational HQ downtown

August 6, 2009 2:56:28 PM PDT
It's official: United Airlines is moving into Chicago's signature skyscraper. The company's operational headquarters will occupy several floors of the newly renamed Willis Tower.

The move to downtown Chicago from the northwest suburbs should be completed by 2010 and will entail $35 million in upgrades to the skyscraper offices.

United officials said the decision is purely financial and the city's incentives made it a 'no-brainer.'

"We're all very proud, especially today, to be Chicago's hometown airline," United Airlines CEO Glenn Tilton said Thursday.

The company is expected to lease 450,000 square feet, which is about nine floors, in the Willis Tower, bringing the skyscraper to 96-percent occupancy. United executives said it would have cost about $90 million to renovate the 50-year-old Elk Grove Township facility where it is currently located.

"Directly they don't provide any revenues to the village but certainly there will be spin off, impact on restaurants and services in the area," said Bill Cooney, dir. of Community Development, Mt. Prospect.

The move is expected to have an economic benefit to the city by bringing about 2,800 workers into the downtown location. Therefore some officials want to grant the company's subsidy request for $25 million to offset relocation costs.

"The average cost of what an employee will spend here is about $6,700 a year. 2,500 employees coming here. This is going to fill up this building to almost 96 % capacity," said Alderman Robert Fioretti.

Critics question how a cash-strapped Chicago has the money to give United; others wonder about the safety of moving the airline's nerve center to a building that has been identified as a potential target of terrorists.

"We'll certainly have backup facilities. We need not worry about that. Security is really of no concern to us," Tilton said.

"Everyone has hard economic times. I don't care what company you're involved with, serious economic times. At the same time, you have to have an optimistic attitude. You have to be able to get through this deep recession. I really believe that they have to help the airline industry more and more in this country," Mayor Richard Daley said.

The money would come from TIF funds, which are not allowed to be used for operations and come from sales taxes and other types of taxes in the TIF district. Those funds are used specifically for the purpose of bringing companies downtown.

United moved its corporate headquarters to 77 West Wacker, for which they also received help from the city, in 2006.

United officials said work to upgrade the facility at the Willis Tower will begin almost immediately.

"I live in the city. I'm a native Chicagoan, born and raised here. To me I'm within walking distance. I'm very excited to finally work in the city that I was born in," said Kecia Sias, United Airlines employee.


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