Hancock Center Nevermore? Another Chicago Name in Peril

The sunken plaza where a multi-story glass retail expansion is envisioned

The sunken plaza where a multi-story glass retail expansion is envisioned

Just a day after Chicago skyscraper enthusiasts sighed in relief that one iconic tower wouldn’t change its name, there are gasps at the prospect that another beloved skyscraper could be rebranded.


The John Hancock Center stands above the Streeterville skyline

The John Hancock Center stands above the Streeterville skyline

The Sun-Times reports that as part of the long-planned redevelopment of the public plaza in front of the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan Avenue), naming rights are on offer to anyone with a fat enough wallet.

The plan to replace the current sunken plaza with a glassed-in multi-story retail experience featuring a music recording studio is not exactly news. Crain’s Chicago Business, this blog, and the Chicago Tribune have reported on it for close to a year. And drawings of the proposal have been in the hands of neighborhood group SOAR for months as it readies its response to the design.

But since the Sun-Times does not have its own business reporters anymore (its business news comes from Virginia) and has undergone other severe staffing cuts in recent years, much of the organization’s institutional memory is gone. So the Hancock project was treated as some kind of scoop by the flagging paper.

But what was news was the possibility of changing the name of the building.

Earlier this week, the Willis Tower (233 South Wacker Drive) was sold to a New York company for $1.3 billion, leading to fears that the former Sears Tower could be up for another name change. But that appears unlikely, at least in the short term, as the Willis insurance company’s deal is expected to remain in tact for at least the next ten years.

The Hancock Center, on the other hand, is a different beast. It has been carved up in recent years with different companies in control of its retail space, its office space, and its observation deck.

The Hearn Company, which owns the tower’s retail space, included a sign with the text “Naming rights for sale” in a rendering of the proposed retail redevelopment published by the Sun-Times.

Depending on the buyer, it could be yet another step in the recent homogenization of Chicago and the widely lamented mall-ification of North Michigan Avenue, the shopping boulevard that is becoming less magnificent by the month.

Incidentally, this is not the first time someone has tried to over-maximize the retail capability of the John Hancock Center’s front porch. Back in the 1980s there was a plan to build a six-story retail podium around the entire front of the building. That plan died due to changing economic conditions. We should find out in the next year if this most recent version has any legs.

Location: 875 North Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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