Chicago will soon have an embarrassment of riches — at least when it comes to observation decks offering a bird’s-eye view of the city’s marquee skyline and glorious lakefront.
The City Council’s Zoning Committee made certain of it Thursday, signing off on a developer’s revised plan to build a $200 million observatory at the top of the 83-story Aon Center near Millennium Park.
Chicago already has two entrenched observation decks — atop Willis Tower and the building at 875 N. Michigan Ave. once known as the John Hancock Center.
But this one will be different.
Part of that uniqueness is the fact that it’s close to the wildly-popular Millennium Park, with the Bean and the water-filled wall of ever-changing pictures of everyday people that has become one of Chicago’s favorite meeting places and biggest tourist attractions.
The other stand-out feature will be the thrill ride to the top that comes with the $25 admission fee, according to Matthew Amato, general manager of Jones Lang LaSalle, the firm that manages the Aon Center for 601W Companies.
“You get the experience of riding that exterior glass elevator to the top of the Aon Center to the 83rd floor, giving you a look around the entire city. That is truly a unique part of this experience,” Amato said.
“I wouldn’t consider it scary at all. It’s gonna provide just an incredible view of our city and give people an opportunity to see something they can’t see anywhere else.”
The plan approved Thursday has been changed considerably in response to congestion concerns raised by area residents.
“The biggest change was the location of the elevator. Originally, the elevator was on Randolph and we moved it to the northwest corner of the building. That was really in response to what the city had brought up and what the neighborhood wanted,” Amato said.
Columbus Drive is in line for sidewalk improvements and traffic lane changes.
To prevent lines for the so-called “Sky Summit” from forming on the sidewalk outside the building, those who purchase $25 tickets will be given a “time-stamp” that tells them when to return for the glass elevator ride up.
Additional parking will also be available across the street at the underground Millennium Park garage.
“We want people to be able to have a good experience, buy their ticket, know what time they can go to the observatory, enjoy the rest of the neighborhood, spend time in the park, spend time at restaurants, then come to the observatory based on their time stamp,” Amato said.
Construction of the $200 million project is expected to start in June and last 18 months.
When it’s done, Chicago will become the second city in the nation to have three observation decks.
Although Willis Tower has added a glass-floored ledge that has a thrill-ride feel, Amato firmly believes there’s room for one more high-profile perch to draw as many as two million visitors per year.
“With the amount of tourism in the city today and the volume of people visiting Millennium Park today and Maggie Daley Park, it’ll just provide more opportunities for people that are already visiting downtown Chicago to experience something else,” Amato said.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) applauded developers for the changes they made to improve “pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular safety” and also ease community concerns.
“This stretch of upper Columbus Drive can turn into a raceway. It puts a lot of pedestrians at risk. And at the developer’s cost, there’ll be substantial improvements made along this right-of-way, including curb bump-outs, wider sidewalks in some areas and additional lanes,” Reilly said.
“They will have traffic management on-site during the busiest hours of the day. … This will dramatically improve existing traffic conditions,” the alderman added. “It truly was a negotiated project. It looks nothing like it did when the developers first came in.”