Blackstone to unveil its big renovation plans for Chicago’s Willis Tower this week

It’s been nearly two years since Blackstone Group purchased the Willis—formerly Sears— Tower for $1.3 billion with the intention of transforming the Chicago icon into an even more profitable destination for both office workers and tourists. While ongoing upgrades to the 1,451-foot-tall skyscrapers elevator system and tenant amenities have been fairly well-documented, more grandiose plans to reposition the building have remained elusive. The longterm future of the SOM-designed tower should become much more clear this week when ownership is expected to take the wraps off the next phase of renovations.

Last year, Crain’s referenced Blackstone’s plans to build a low-rise retail complex at the tower’s base. The new addition would likely replace the underutilized plaza facing Jackson as well as the low-rise “lunchbox” structure fronting Wacker. The design could include a new grocery store/food court and see the entrance to the tower’s observation deck moved below ground. Upgrades to the popular 103-floor “Skydeck Chicago” were also mentioned.

On Wednesday, Blackstone and partner Equity Office plan to flesh-out the details of the renovations and present never-before-seen renderings showcasing their vision of a fully modernized and reimagined building. The changes will “reinforce Willis Tower as a civic destination and the ultimate place to work with unique retail and entertainment experiences,” said a Blackstone and Equity Office spokesperson via email.

The tower’s so-called “lunchbox” winter garden on Wacker.
Flickr Creative Commons/Ed Bierman