If you want to “hang” at the Aon Center, 601W Companies is cool with that. As long as you do it in its proposed 22-person glass pod hanging off the roof. The New York real estate company has unveiled its $185 million proposal for turning a portion of Chicago’s third-tallest building into a tourist attraction.
We’ve known since 601W bought the stoic skyscraper in 2015 for $173 million that it thought there was a market for an observation deck at this location on the edge of Millennium Park. Later, the company whetted everyone’s appetite for such an endeavor when it allowed the public to gawk at the city from a vacant floor near the top of the building during Open House Chicago.
Now 601W has let the public in on its plan to run what might be the world’s tallest glass elevator up the northwest corner of the building, kit out a double-decker observation deck, and put a thrill ride on the roof called the Sky Summit.
The sky pod will be a horizontal glass tube that cranes gently over the Aon Center’s public plaza 1,180-something feet below. Think of it as a civilized version of the crazy carnival rides that swing people off the edge of the roof of the Stratosphere, 900 feet over the Las Vegas Strip.
The exterior elevator is necessary because of the way the Aon Center’s lobby, security, and central elevator bank are configured. There’s just no sane way to keep the fanny packs separated from the briefcases. So now the plan is for tourists to enter a pavilion on the northwest corner of Randolph and Columbus, then go underground beneath the skyscraper to enter the elevator on the opposite corner of the block.
Building a new welcome center for an estimated two million annual visitors means that little United Nations flag plaza is going bye bye. Also disappearing is the fascinating and creepy acoustic sculpture by Harry Bertoia. It’s an ode to the Illinois prairie, made of metal, that creates unearthly sounds when the rods bend in the wind. Hopefully it will be relocated to an equally windy and public location.