Case Study / Sears Tower | Chicago



  • Project Management, Repositioning, and Leasing


  • Total of 3,800,000 SF office space
    • 2,300,000 SF unleased
    • 1,500,000 SF leased

Year Started | Completed

  • 1990 | 1997

Project Summary

The Sears Tower (currently Willis Tower) was originally built as the headquarters for Sears, Roebuck & Co. (Sears), once the largest retailer in the world.  When the building was completed in 1973, it was the tallest in the world at 1,450 feet (110 stories) with 3.8 million rentable square feet of office space. Shortly after announcing plans to relocate its 2.3 million square foot headquarters, Sears engaged JBC in 1990 to re-lease and reposition the iconic, but dated tower.


square feet
office space


base building
capital program


occupancy increase


operating expense reduction

The Property

JBC began the redevelopment effort with a design competition aimed at dramatically improving the property for all of the building’s different tenants and users. One of the mandates was to enhance the tower’s image and presence architecturally by creating more grand and open public spaces, refinishing surfaces with new materials, and improving natural and internal lighting. JBC also sought to increase the functionality of the property and upgrade the building’s systems. Further complicating the mission, JBC would have to implement all of the upgrades to the tower while still in use by 20,000 daily visitors and employees.

Our Role

JBC implemented a $75 million base building capital program that significantly increased the desirability of the office space and improved the functionality of the retail and observatory spaces. First, JBC created a separate and distinct tourist entrance to the Skydeck observatory on the 103rd floor, which eliminated confusion and congestion in the lobby.  JBC also streamlined the vertical transportation by eliminating multiple lobby levels, reducing the number of escalators, and bringing the primary elevators down to one common lobby level.

In addition to upgrading the public and amenity spaces, JBC modernized several of the buildings systems. Four additional rooftop antennas were added to accommodate digital TV signals, 75% of the exterior windows were replaced, and the fire/life safety systems were brought up to code.

The Outcome

JBC completed the entire redevelopment program within 18 months, fully 12 months ahead of ownership’s original schedule, with no reduction in project scope or services and with minimal disruption to the building’s tenant population. Throughout the assignment, JBC re-leased over 3 million square feet of office space, increasing occupancy from 35% to 95%.  In addition, JBC reduced annual operating expenses by $4.3 million ($1.25 per square foot) by increasing efficiency and modernizing building systems.

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