Equity Office, a division of Blackstone, has visionary plans for Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, an architectural icon and one of the world’s tallest buildings. Through a $500 million investment, Willis Tower will be transformed by the first major renovation in the building’s 43-year history.

Standing 1,450 feet and 110 stories tall at 233 S. Wacker Drive, Willis Tower contains more than 4.5 million square feet of office, retail and entertainment space. Debuted in September 1973 as the Sears Tower, today more than 100 prominent businesses call Willis Tower home, including financial services, law firms and insurance companies.

“Willis Tower has always been iconic within Chicago’s skyline and around the world,” said Jon Gray, Global Head of Real Estate, Blackstone. “This investment sets a bold new standard for office environments and urban centers around the world and underscores our commitment to the development of the city of Chicago.”

As part of the transformation, approximately 460,000 square feet of existing space within the Tower will be reconfigured. This includes 150,000 square feet of space for exclusive tenant use, including a full-service fitness center, tenant lounges, private event space and concierge services to create an “inspiring and energetic” work environment. The plan also calls for more than 300,000 square feet of new retail, dining and entertainment space to be added to the base of the building, and a new 30,000-square-foot outdoor deck and garden space.

Part of the investment will also focus on enhancing the Tower’s 103rd floor Skydeck Chicago experience, which currently welcomes 1.7 million national and international visitors annually, to create a family entertainment experience. Work to transform the Tower is scheduled to begin this month, and will create an additional 2,500 jobs.

Willis Tower

“We are pleased to be in the position to draw on Bruce Graham’s original inspiration for this Tower, and to have the opportunity to harmonize his enduring vision with the changes that have since occurred in the city and its neighborhoods, and in the nature of the way we use urban environments for work, life and play,” said Eli Khouri, President and Chief Executive Officer, Equity Office. “Our goal is to remain true to his vision, by making the Tower the most coveted workplace in the city as well as a compelling public destination, and a source of civic pride for Chicago’s citizens. Against that backdrop, the project provides the perfect platform to showcase Equity Office’s ability to create best-in-class work environments that drive value for successful organizations.”

The Tower’s transformation will include a new three-story transparent, glass structure set atop the existing stone plaza welcoming visitors and offering a ‘see and be seen’ experience that invites people to engage, linger and enjoy the streetscape. Below the glass facade will be three subterranean floors organized around a three-story winter garden crowned with a dramatic glass skylight, which will provide unobstructed views of all 110 floors of the tower rising above.

Designed in the 1960s, Willis Tower, like its contemporaries, was built atop a base to separate the urban streetscape from the building, and to minimize the number of people walking along the sidewalk. The new plans break this barrier, blending the building into the city it calls home and re-energizing the downtown area.

“Once complete, the reimaged Willis Tower will bring a new energy to Chicago’s central business district, creating a lively neighborhood center where people will work, spend time and enjoy the best of the city,” said Paul Kurzawa, Managing Director – Development, Equity Office, who is overseeing the redevelopment. “The new Willis Tower will raise the boundaries of architectural excellence and represent the pinnacle of deeply livable work environments in the city of Chicago as well as urban centers around the world.”

Blackstone and Equity Office’s vision for the new Willis Tower was brought to life by the Chicago office of Gensler, a global San Francisco-based design firm. Gonzalez Architects designed the tenant-only office amenities, and Los Angeles-based Hetzel Design is overseeing the design concepts for the Skydeck enhancements. Design-build firm Turner Clayco will oversee the construction of the new Willis Tower.