Plans Outlined for a Four-Story Retail Crown at the John Hancock Center

Model of the Hancock Center plaza redevelopment proposal

Model of the Hancock Center plaza redevelopment proposal

A plan to significantly redevelop the John Hancock Center’s plaza was proposed tonight by the owner of the tower’s retail space, the Hearn Company. In its current state, the building’s plaza is a sunken terrace that sits adjacent to and below Michigan Avenue, providing pedestrian access to tenant storefronts below ground level.

The John Hancock Center's Michigan Avenue plaza in its current state

The John Hancock Center’s Michigan Avenue plaza in its current state

The problem with this layout the Hearn Company is trying to solve is that it’s visually uninviting to the public, underutilized, and not attracting enough pedestrian traffic.

Hearn’s solution: Construct an 800-foot wide, 39-foot tall structure in the middle of the plaza that can only be described as a massive crown.

The proposed crown will consist of 24 prism shaped columns made from a transparent acrylic material. The columns’ shape and transparency will supposedly create an appealing light effect during the day, and then will be colorfully illuminated at night. In the middle of these columns will be an open platform elevated above the plaza’s terrace that can be accessed from the street level.

Drawing of the Hancock Center plaza redevelopment proposalTo make room for this proposed crown jewel, Hearn intends to completely remove the plaza’s predominant central stairway that backs into the Michigan avenue sidewalk, freeing up nearly 2,000 square feet of space. To compensate for the lost access to the plaza, Hearn plans to widen the north and south stairwells that also provide pedestrian access.

When the crowd asked Stephen Hearn, president of the Hearn Company, what events were likely to be conducted on the open platform he revealed they’re actively looking for a corporate sponsor who may want to use the space throughout the year for promotions. One example (and possibly an act of foreshadowing) presented was an automobile sponsor showcasing “futuristic concept cars.”

Drawing of the Hancock Center plaza redevelopment proposalThe crowd’s reaction to the proposal was surprisingly optimistic. It seems everyone agrees the plaza is underutilized open space sitting at the forefront of one of the nation’s most iconic avenues, and Hearn’s proposal is considered something better than we have now.

Some further details on the project:

  • Estimated cost is $10,000,000
  • Estimated time of construction is 5-6 months
  • An elevator would be installed providing access from the street level to the sunken plaza
  • There was talk of adding a video wall along the sunken portion of Michigan Avenue where the stairs currently sit
  • Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill


Stephen Hearn

Stephen Hearn

Location: 875 North Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast

Author: Zachary Pollack

Zachary is a lawyer by day and architecture buff by night. At the office Zachary focuses his practice on working with commercial real estate developers and developers focused on subsidized housing projects. Although Zachary grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, he had his heart set on Chicago ever since visiting as a child and being in awe of the city's skyscrapers. Zachary lives in Old Town. On weekends you can find him strolling the streets checking out progress on all the construction sites. Feel free to get in touch with Zac at

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