Willis Tower to get $500 million renovation

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The iconic Willis Tower will get a major makeover. The city announced Wednesday a $500 million plan to transform the nation's second tallest building.

Since 1973, the crown jewel in Chicago's skyline has been the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.

It soars 110 stories into the sky, but the focus of a major renovation to the massive building is at ground level to make it more inviting to pedestrians.

"The idea was, let's open it up, connect it to the city, make it part of the neighborhood, have a bunch of offerings that will make people come to this neighborhood," said Jon Gray, of Blackstone.

The $500 million dollar project calls for 300,000 square feet of new retail, dining and entertainment space at the base of the tower and a facelift that will make it look less like a fortress from the street. An existing 400,000 square feet within the building will be converted to new tenant amenities, including lounges and a fitness center. The Skydeck could also be expanded, with new attractions added.

"We want to energize this 4.5 million-square-foot property, reconnecting it to neighborhood and making it a global destination," Gray said.

The investment by the company that bought Willis Tower two years ago is an effort to restore the second tallest building in the nation to its original prominence and make it a global destination for a growing number of tourists. This is the first major renovation in the building's 43-year history.

"This investment is rethinking, redesigning for the next 40 years what Willis Tower has been for the last 40 years as an icon in Chicago's skyline," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

The project will create more than 2,500 new jobs, the mayor's office said.

Construction on the project is expect is expected to start in the next couple of months, and will be completed in the summer of 2019.
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