DOWNTOWN — The owner of Willis Tower has some lofty plans for the skyscraper's Skydeck.
Blackstone Group plans to spend $20 million to spruce up the popular 103rd-floor attraction as it looks to entice more tourists to Chicago's tallest tower at 233 S. Wacker Drive, according to a report by Morningstar Credit Ratings.
One idea: a new glass box allowing visitors to rappel down the side of the tower, from the 103rd to 102nd floor.
Another: a "ledgewalk," or open-air ledge allowing harnessed visitors to walk along the tower's 102nd floor. Plans also call to expand the Skydeck to two floors, raising the attraction's capacity and hopefully shortening lines.
Crain's first reported the new Skydeck attractions under consideration.
The sky-high attractions, which have yet to be vetted or approved by city officials, are part of Blackstone's $500 million plan to revitalize Chicago's most famous building. In its report, Morningstar says the tower combats stubbornly high vacancies and "has found itself removed from the ever-growing live-work-play culture that has become commonplace in downtown Chicago."
"No longer will this be an inaccessible fortress without amenities that does feel a bit desolate after 5 p.m.," Jon Gray, Blackstone's global head of real estate, said at a press conference last month announcing renovations.
The Morningstar report sheds more light on what exactly Blackstone has in mind. Morningstar wrote the report because Blackstone is refinancing the tower with a loan that is being converted into mortgage-backed bonds sold to investors.
The Skydeck draws 1.7 million visitors annually, and revenue has only gone up since Willis Tower added The Ledge, or a glass box jutting out of the 103rd floor of the tower, in 2009.
The Skydeck can currently only hold 600 visitors at a time, and its planned expansion could boost capacity to 1,200, Morningstar says.
A spokeswoman for Willis Tower declined to comment.
More grounded improvements coming to the tower include a new "winter garden" housing a "European-style food hall" and new street-level shops. A rooftop deck on top of the winter garden could house a skating rink in the winter.