Whatcha Talkin ‘Bout? Willis?

One of Chicago’s most visited real estate icons — and the Western Hemisphere’s tallest building — is getting a new name.  And Chicagoans are not thrilled.

Under the terms of a significant lease signed by global insurance broker Willis Group Holdings, Ltd., the 110-story, 1,450-foot-tall Sears Tower will change its name to the Willis Tower.

The London-based insurance giant plans to move nearly 500 Chicago-based associates into the trophy building, initially occupying more than 140,000 SF on multiple floors.  Located at 233 South Wacker Drive, the 3.8 million SF Willis Tower was designed by Chicago architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  The Sears Tower has not occupied the building, which was completed in 1973, since its move to Hoffman Estates in 1992.

At $14.50 PSF, the lease provides a glimpse of how the recession has negatively impacted office rents.  Net rents for existing Class A West Loop space have dropped to about $21 PSF from $25 PSF a year ago.  Sears – uh, Willis — Tower rents tend to be lower because some potential users fear its September 11 factor.  The building’s owner is 233 S. Wacker LLC.  U.S. Equities Asset Management, LLC, provides leasing and management services.

According to an unscientific poll in the Chicago Tribune, 95.7 percent of respondents say they will always call the building the Sears Tower.  Just 4.3 percent plan to use the new name.  Sears may have moved to Hoffman Estates years ago, but it’s still a hometown company.