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Observation deck and 1000-foot-tall external elevator headed to Aon Center

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Tourists may soon “ride” up the side of what is currently Chicago’s third tallest building

Completed in 1973, Chicago’s Aon Center was originally known as the Standard Oil Building—or “Big Stan.”
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A planned observation deck atop Chicago’s Aon Center is aiming to up the thrill factor with a glass-walled, double-decker elevator that would climb 1000 feet along the skyscraper’s glass and granite exterior.

While the creation of a “multi-level entertainment center” occupying the office tower’s 82nd and 83rd floors was first announced when the property changed hands in 2015, the white-knuckle elevator component was revealed in a recent report by the Chicago Tribune.

A view south from the Aon Center, overlooking Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Lake Michigan.
Jay Koziarz

Originally set to ascend the southeast corner of the 1,135-foot building, the proposed transparent lift is now slated for 200 E. Randolph Street’s northwest edge. The change, according to the article, was made to minimize its visual impact when viewed from the lakefront and Grant Park.

So far, city officials have yet to sign off on the ambitious plan, which is reportedly still in the early stages. No renderings from architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz of the glassy elevator or its dedicated street level entrance pavilion have been released to the public.

The Aon addition would see Chicago join New York as the only other North American city to have three observation decks. The Big Apple’s current list of observatories includes the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory. A fourth is planned to open atop the supertall 30 Hudson Yards tower in 2019.

With observatories proven to be consistent moneymakers for building owners, the Aon attraction is well positioned to capitalize on the tourist traffic around Millennium and Maggie Daley parks. Previous reports pegged the potential annual revenue from such an upgrade at $30 million.

The public was provided a sneak peek at the sweeping views from Aon’s 71st floor during the 2015 edition of Open House Chicago.
Jay Koziarz

As other observation decks have proved, simply giving visitors a boring old window and a view isn’t enough to capture the imaginations—and dollars—of the modern tourist.

Willis Tower’s Skydeck added the “Ledge” which allows brave guests to step onto glass boxes protruding from the tower’s exterior. The former Sears Tower observatory is mulling further thrill attractions which could include a glass “Ledgewalk” staircase and a chance to rappel—or descend by rope and harness—from the 103rd to 102nd floor.

The 360Chicago observatory atop the famous skyscraper formerly known as the John Hancock Center has added “Tilt.” As the enhancement’s name suggests, it consists of an articulated compartment that tips downward to give visitors a 1000-foot-high view of the street below.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, US Bank Tower has tacked on a 45-foot-long transparent “Skyslide” to its exterior. It funnels tourists from the skyscraper’s 70th floor down to the 69th.

Update: Details of the plan are expected to break cover at a public meeting on Monday, May 14. The presentation will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Mid-America Club on the Aon Center’s 80th floor.

Aon Center

200 East Randolph Street, , IL 60601