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Willis should have asked us about Sears
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 3/16/2009 12:08 AM

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Let this be a lesson to whomever buys Wrigley Field. The name matters.

Apparently, Willis Group Holdings of London thought they could just march across the pond and rename an iconic building and no one would notice or care.

Granted, we in the Chicago area don't have as much history as England boasts, but, hey, three decades of calling the tallest building in the United States the Sears Tower means something to us.

"With the Sears Tower name having international cachet, you could argue that imposing a new name might be kind of cheeky on their part," Tim Samuelson, Chicago's cultural historian, told The New York Times.

Perhaps Willis should have done a little homework first and talked to some Chicagoans. Instead, their chief executive told the Chicago Tribune he was surprised at the uproar. And its spokesman told our reporter Jamie Sotonoff that "This is a new day, and over time, Chicagoans may come to embrace the Willis name."

We wouldn't count on it. And we wouldn't count on most of us ever calling the building anything but Sears Tower.

As Sotonoff detailed in a story Saturday, we cling to the name we know even when politicians or business execs try to foist new monikers on us.

Granted, United had an easier time getting buy-in on the new United Center because the old Chicago Stadium was demolished. The same could have been said for U.S. Cellular Field, but even tearing down the old Comiskey Park has done nothing to get regular usage of the new name.

Politicians think it's honorable to rename our tollways for politicians and do-gooders. And that's well and good. But the directionally challenged or those who like using numbers for their roads still are in the majority, so the Reagan Tollway, for example, is still the East-West Tollway or I-88 to most of us.

We know Willis has every right to rename the building. They paid $2 million for 140,000 square feet of office space for 500 employees and got the naming rights thrown in. Normally, that would be great news, especially in these trying times. And most of it is.

But as noted earlier, the name counts. Nothing against Macy's really, but it's still hard for many to embrace the store that took over Marshall Field's. That's probably not as evident in the stores Macy's built since they came to town, but it certainly is for the venerable department store building they took over on State Street.

Macy's has had to spend a lot of money overcoming those obstacles in Chicago. But Willis, a global retail insurance broker, has no direct dealings with consumers. They have no image to build up. So why?

"It's ego," Bob Killian, CEO of Chicago-based Killian Advertising, told Sotonoff.

Yes, we can hear them denying that all the way from London: "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis," they might say.

Hmmm. We might say that too.