Long a symbol of the city since its opening in 1973, Chicago's iconic Willis Tower, commonly known as the Sears Tower, is set to receive a massive, $500 million revamp in order to boost the tower's public profile. The extensive list of renovations will include the addition of new retail and dining spaces, as well as an exciting new rooftop deck and public outdoor space, which would be spread across the tower's lower and immediate above-ground levels. Involving a total of six completely re-imagined floors of retail, dining, and entertainment options, all of which would be open to the public and fully accessible, the ambitious revitalization project will completely transform the Willis Tower, bringing some much-needed vibrancy to the otherwise austere 108-storey office building. 

"Winter Garden," dining and retail space, image via Blackstone

Capped off with what Willis Tower owner Blackstone calls a "Winter Garden," the signature set-piece of the redevelopment will feature an impressive undulating glass atrium and skylight, which will serve as both the roof for the six-storey retail and dining levels included in the renovations, and as a glass sculpture of sorts for the planned rooftop garden and deck, which itself may receive a wintertime outdoor skating rink and multimedia-driven entertainment space.

Rooftop garden and deck, with space for wintertime skating rink, image via Blackstone

Set to encompass 30,000 square feet of space, the rooftop deck will be the jewel in the crown of the Willis Tower revitalization project. Just below the glass dome, an additional 300,000 square feet of retail and dining options will be spread across six floors, and the hunt for high-end tenants is now in its earliest phase. 

Willis Tower revitalization, overhead view of deck, atrium, and retail/dining levels, image via Blackstone

At street level, the revamp will be quite striking. The remodeled lower levels of the podium will be transformed from its current comparatively non-descript corporate aesthetic, to a much more visually impressive array of colours and architectural flourishes. The overall effect is one that Blackstone hopes will encourage a much steadier flow of visitors and tourists who will be enticed to spend their time — and money — at the Willis Tower beyond the traditional one-time visit to the 103rd-floor Skydeck.

Willis Tower, redeveloped southeast corner, retail podium, image via Blackstone

With the green light from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the project will reportedly create 2,500 jobs, with construction projected to be completed by 2019. A well-publicized development, undertaken at one of, if not the most recognizable buildings in Chicago, the $500 million Willis Tower revitalization will more than likely capture the attention of Chicagoans and many others across the nation. The iconic downtown landmark is passed by more than 12 million people per year, and that number could soon be much, much higher. 

SkyriseCities will be sure to return to this project as progress continues. For more information, check out the associated Database file and Forum thread, and as always, feel free to join the conversation in the comments section below.