Renaming the Willis Tower and John Hancock buildings

Chicagoans may have to soon adjust to two new names for skyline fixtures:

Sneed hears the Willis Tower, the crown jewel of skyscrapers, is currently the subject of negotiation for naming rights.

Meanwhile, Sneed is told a name change at the John Hancock Center may be imminent…

“Selling naming rights for buildings not occupied by the company that’s named is a new phenomenon and it’s something our ordinances don’t really address,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who has ordered a study by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Department to determine whether the building qualifies for landmarking status — which restricts building modifications to respect historical integrity.

Even if the names officially change, it will take a significant amount of time for the everyday use of the new titles to change. The buildings are privately owned and yet they have clearly been symbols of Chicago for decades. That the naming rights could change every few years – dependent on the global real estate market – is an odd phenomenon for structures that serve as public markers.

In the long run, perhaps this is why we need non-company names for buildings. Think the Empire State Building or the Gherkin. Firms can move in and out and the name and symbol stays the same. I’m not sure what the Chicago buildings would be named in such a scheme. The Sears/Willis/?? Tower could be the “Stack of Rectangles Tower” and the Hancock could be the “X Support Building.”

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