A plaque on the Merchandise Mart is a vestige of a failed campaign to renname the iconic Chicago building. Credit: Andrea Bauer

  • Andrea Bauer
  • A plaque on the Merchandise Mart is a vestige of a failed campaign to rename the iconic Chicago building.

More than 13 years after terrorist attacks destroyed New York City’s twin towers, One World Trade Center opened for business on November 3. The 104-story building, America’s tallest, welcomed its first tenants, employees of the publishing giant Condé Nast. While history was being made in lower Manhattan this week, Chicago’s own One World Trade Center has all but been forgotten.

A brass plaque outside the southern entrance of the Merchandise Mart designates the mammoth riverfront building “One World Trade Center Chicago.” What could be read as a 9/11 homage is actually a vestige of a failed attempt, dating back to the early 90s, to rename the complex that then included the Mart, the ExpoCenter, and the Apparel Center. “We want people to be able to get into a cab and say, ‘Take me to the World Trade Center,’ and have the taxi stop at the Merchandise Mart,” Joseph Hakim, then president and CEO of Merchandise Mart Properties, told the Tribune in the fall of ’93. The effort to shift the identity of one of Chicago’s most iconic buildings was prompted by Illinois World Trade Center Association chairman Neil Hartigan, the former Illinois lieutenant governor and attorney general, whose nonprofit was poised to move its headquarters into the Mart’s ninth floor to create a hub supporting the development of international business relations.

Well, the new tag never took, and the name-change campaign dissolved in 2008, when the IWTCA relocated to the Aon Center. Last year the IWTCA started using the name World Trade Illinois, shedding the licensing fees of its mother organization, the World Trade Center Association, the New York-based umbrella agency for World Trade Centers in 92 countries, including some 50 here in the U.S.

WTI is now based in Oak Brook and McHenry, but the Merch Mart plaque remains. “I’d describe it as a holdover,” says Myron Maurer, COO of Vornado, the parent company of Merchandise Mart Properties. “It’s certainly nothing we promote.”

WTI president Bill Lada is bit more blunt: “It’s a meaningless plate on the building.” But, he adds, “It’s beautiful. I’d love to pry it off and take it home.”

Don’t know what that place is? whatthehell@chicagoreader.com