10 Years After World Trade Center Attack, Sears Tower Finds New Hope

Michelle Remo, “Big 4″ observer
September 04, 2011 /

The former Sears Tower, now called Willis Tower, is rebounding back to robust trading ten years after the terrorist attack that razed World Trade Center to the ground.

Large tenants of Willis Tower, including Ernst & Young and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. abandoned their leases in the building during the height of the World Trade Center tragedy after rumors that it was next in the terrorists’ list, sending the leasing activity at the facility 20 percent lower as it was declared then a no-go zone.

Willis Tower is now trying to conquer its pre-September 11 high of 98 percent. Over 82 percent of the building is currently leased, showing signs of recovery. Additionally, the United Airlines has been reported in 2009 to be planning to rent more than 600,000 square feet of the building.

According to David Matthews, a Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. executive vice-president representing the United Continental Holdings Inc. in moving there, the public looks at the building today more “favorably” after the World Trade Center attack.

“People don’t talk about it in terms of 9/11 anymore. They see it as a prominent building in downtown Chicago,” he said.

“Willis Tower matters to all of Chicago because of its impact on business, real estate, tourism and the city’s image. A struggling, lightly occupied Willis Tower could depress leasing rates throughout downtown,” a local news in Chicago reported.

Skokie-based American Landmark Properties Ltd. and New York investors Joseph Chetrit and Joseph Moinan, owners of Willis Tower, are confident to sell the building for $1.5 billion, twice their expenses in 2004.

The building has an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 workers every week, with 1.4 million visitors expected on the 103rd-floor Skydeck this year, equivalent to a 40 percent rise since the addition of the Ledge, a set of glass balconies with a view 1,353 feet straight down.

Willis Tower now looks to fill in the 315,000 square feet vacancy created by Goldman Sachs in 2005.

Meanwhile, Michael Kazmierczak, a senior vice-president at leasing agent U.S. Equities Realty LLC, said no large-scale leases will expire in the next three years.

United Continental, the biggest tenant will move 3,800 employees into 650,000 square feet on 12 floors by mid-2012, compensating for the 387,000 square feet vacancy created by accounting firm Ernst & Young.

“When United committed to move in, I think a lot of people thought, if they’re moving in there, the security must be resolved. I think that was a game-changer for them,” said says Rick Schuham, a executive vice-president at New York-based Studley Inc. representing the tenants.

Other big leases occupying the building until mid-2020s include London-based Willis Group Holdings PLC, which occupies 140,000 square feet of Willis Tower, and law firm Schiff Hardin LLP, an original tenant, occupying 217,000 square feet.


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