Wednesday, October 7, 2009

United Airlines to get $35.8 million in city incentives for Willis Tower move

Chicago to pay airline after it agreed to move to Willis Tower, employ at least 2,500 downtown for 10 years or more
A Chicago City Council committee on Monday authorized $35.8 million in incentives to help United Airlines move its operations center from the northwest suburbs to Willis Tower downtown.

United, in turn, must employee at least 2,500 people at the city's tallest building for the next 10 years, said William Eager, a deputy commissioner in the city's Community Development Department.

"United made it clear they were looking for a new headquarters," he said. "We wanted the city to be as competitive as possible."

To that end, the city offered far more to United than the $25 million in incentives first revealed in early August.

United also was looking at relocating its operations center to Rolling Meadows as it searched for a more cost-effective solution to upgrading its command center in Elk Grove Township near O'Hare International Airport. When United announced in August that it had chosen Willis Tower, formerly the landmark Sears Tower, UAL Corp. CEO Glenn Tilton said the city's incentives were a key to the decision.

Under the deal approved by the Finance Committee, Chicago-based United would receive $25.8 million in special taxing district funds over a 10-year period. Of that, $1.5 million would be for job training. The remaining $24.3 million would be used to rehabilitate more than 400,000 square feet of space on eight or nine floors of Willis Tower, Eager said.

In addition, the city has agreed to give United $10 million -- in five annual $2 million payments starting in 2012 -- as an incentive to make the move.

Even if all those payments are made in the next 10 years, the city will net $44.5 million in revenue during that period because of the move, Eager said. If United stays for 15 years, the city will net $101.4 million, he said.

The move is a cost savings for United, which needed a new operations center because for the first time the company is bringing together employees responsible for everything from tracking its planes to minding stranded passengers.

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