Adjusting to Willis Tower (Repeat, Willis Tower)

What chu talkin' about?

By Peggy Cassidy
|  Thursday, Mar 19, 2009  |  Updated 8:16 AM CDT
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Willis Tower dominated the city's skyline south of the Chicago River. Get used to it.

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Most Chicagoans are probably feeling slightly sqeemish about the recent name change hoisted on our iconic tower, the building formerly known as the Sears Tower.

Willis, they say.

That's the new name. Willis Tower.

The jump to an 80s sitcom reference is too obvious, the the irony is hard to miss, too. Chicagoans may be reminded of a sad part of our state history that contributed to the downfall of former Gov. George Ryan. The deaths of Rev. Scott and Janet Willis’ six children in a fiery crash with a van hung silently over Ryan’s monthslong corruption trial.

Constructing the scene on the day Ryan is released from prison, Chuck Goudie, writing in The Daily Herald this week, sets up the moment when George and Lura Lynn Ryan are driving home to Kankakee and they see the tower off in the distance.

Ryan says he's been thinking of when he would be free and would see the Sears Tower again.

"'Oh George,' Lura Lynn will say. 'It's not the Sears Tower any more. They changed the name while you were in prison. It's now called the Willis Tower,'" Goudie writes. Imagine, then, an awkward silence.

"As long as George Ryan lives," Goudie says, "every time he sees the magnificent 110-story skyscraper, he will hear the name Willis and be forced to remember the six children from the Willis family who died ... as a result of corruption in his office."

But those aren't the Willises after whom the skyscraper will be named,

Sears Tower will be rechristened Willis Tower in accordance with a new lease signed by British insurance firm Willis Group Holdings. The company plans to move some 500 associates into multiple floors. It says its $14.50-per-square-foot move means big real-estate savings, and the name change came free with the lease, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Currently, there's little enthusiasm for the new name, and hence, less than a warm welcome has been extended to the company.

Chicago mover and shaker Billy Dec recently posted notes from a conversation he had with the owner of Willis Group, a former college roommate, Joe Moinian. Dec's blog features the perspective of a new company moving onto the city scene and grateful to be here.

Dec says Moinian thinks bringing a "strong tenant like that brings 'comfort, confidence, excitement' to the building," adding that,  the building is the largest taxpayer in Chicago.

"It is the biggest piece of real estate within the greatest city, within the greatest country, and (it) needs that confidence, security and excitement," Moinian said.

So, come on, Chicago. Get excited. George Ryan will have to live with it, too.

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