Dave Greising makes some solid points in his column Friday, about the renaming of the Sears Tower.
True enough, the Sears Tower was never iconic in quite the same way the John Hancock is — at least not locally. (I’m going to guess that globally, a lot more people cared about the world’ tallest building than Chicago’s third largest.)
And granted, the Sears name is beaten and battered. And yes, Sears moved out and the Willis Group moved in. “If a name change can fill the once empty, cavernous spaces of the old Sears Tower with talk of growth,” says Greising, “then Big Willy is a welcome change, indeed.
However, the verb “fill” might be a stretch. Willis is taking over 2 of the tower’s 110 stories and has an option on a third. If that commitment justifies the naming rights it got by asking for them, the building could just as logically be dubbed the Lobby Tower.
And although no one in Chicago had ever heard of the Willis Group before now, “Willis” carries some baggage. In Chicago it’s identified with segregation and political cynicism. It’s also associated with tragedy and political scandal.
But much more to the point, Sears had its name on the tower because Sears built it. It’s a little like music. Michael Jackson bought the publishing rights to the Beatles catalog, but he didn’t put his name on the songs because he didn’t write them.
He did own them, though, which is more than can be said of the Willis Group and its tower. So I am afraid the new arrangement makes the tower’s leasing agent, U.S. Equities Asset Management, look desperate and the Willis Group look like boorish parvenus.