Blackstone to invest $500 million in overhaul of Chicago's Willis Tower

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO Blackstone Group LP said on Wednesday it will invest $500 million to renovate Chicago’s Willis Tower, upgrading amenities for tenants and adding new dining and entertainment space in a building that was once the world’s tallest.

The price tag makes the refurbishment of the city’s most recognizable skyscraper one of the most expensive building makeovers in U.S. commercial real estate. Work is scheduled to begin this month and be completed in 2019, a Blackstone spokeswoman said.

Formerly the Sears Tower, Blackstone, the world’s biggest alternative asset manager, bought the tower in 2015 for $1.3 billion. Completed in 1973, the 1,450 foot, 110-story building was the world’s tallest until 1998, when the Petronas Towers opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the United States behind the One World Trade Center in New York.

The overhaul is the building’s first major renovation.

“Willis Tower has always been iconic within Chicago’s skyline and around the world,” Jon Gray, Blackstone’s global head of real estate, said in a statement.

“The investment we announced today is the largest Blackstone has ever made in re-imagining one of its properties. Our goal is to restore Willis Tower to its original prominence and make it a must-visit destination in Chicago for tenants, local residents and tourists.”

As part of the expansive overhaul, approximately 460,000 square feet of existing space within the building will be reconfigured, a statement from the company and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

This includes around 150,000 square feet for building tenants such as a fitness center and lounges.

Around 300,000 square feet of new retail, dining and entertainment space will be added at the base of the building, which stands in Chicago’s West Loop, in addition to an outdoor deck and garden space of 30,000-square-feet.

Also being overhauled is Skydeck Chicago, an observation deck on the building’s 103rd story, which was visited by 1.7 million people last year.

The former Time-Life building on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, which was built in 1959, recently underwent a $325 million renovation.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Tom Brown)

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