- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) | The Sears Tower, one of the world’s iconic skyscrapers and the tallest building in the United States, was renamed the Willis Tower on Thursday in a downtown ceremony, marking a new chapter in the history of the giant edifice that has dominated the Chicago skyline for nearly four decades.

Mayor Richard M. Daley unveiled the tower’s new name on a large black sign in the lobby with the help of Joseph Plumeri, the chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings, the London-based insurance broker that secured the naming rights as part of its agreement to lease 140,000 square feet of space in the building.

“We believe in Chicago,” Mr. Plumeri said. “You will find over time that Willis is not going to just have its name on the building; it’s going to have an impact in society, in the community.”

Mr. Plumeri said the company plans to bring hundreds of jobs to the city and help in the community. He presented a check for $100,000 to the volunteer organization Chicago Cares, said his company’s 500 Chicago employees would help out the group and pledged to donate another $100,000 to Chicago 2016, the city’s bid for that year’s Olympic Games.

Sophie Harwood, 10, and Hailey West, 10, of Barrington, were among those who took pictures of the new signs Thursday morning. They said they would still consider it the Sears Tower, though.

“It is kind of cool, though, because people who came before can say they came to the Sears Tower before it was the Willis Tower,” Sophie said.

The 110-story skyscraper may officially have a new name for the first time since its 1973 opening, but many Chicago residents have said they are not buying it.

“It’s always going to be the Sears Tower. It’s part of Chicago, and I won’t call it Willis Tower. In Chicago, we hold fast,” Chicago teacher Marianne Turk, 46, said as she stood in line this week to go up to the building’s Skydeck.

The tower’s original tenant, Sears Roebuck and Co., moved out in 1992, but its name remained. A real estate investment group, American Landmark Properties of Skokie, now owns the 1,450-foot-tall building.

Historically, skyscrapers have themselves been businesses, acting as a commodity to compete for high rents and tenants, said Carol Willis, founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum in New York.

“Naming rights are an asset of the building. They can be turned into money, and that’s what the new owners are doing,” she said.

The Sears Tower is not the only well-known building to undergo a name change: New York’s Pan Am Building became the MetLife Building and Chicago’s Standard Oil Building is now the Aon Center, Miss Willis said.

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