The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Hancock Center Observatory Considering Installing 'Leaning' Glass Skyboxes

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 9, 2013 8:40PM

Photo credit: Ajit Chouhan

Imagine taking an elevator to the top of a skyscraper’s observation deck, being strapped into a glass box similar to the popular ones at Willis (Sears) Tower, then those boxes lean down to give you a possibly vertigo-inducing view below.

That could become a reality if the owners of the John Hancock Observatory have their way. Crain’s Chicago Business reports Montparnasse Group 56, owners of the 94th floor observatory, are weighing the possibility of an enclosed glass-box attraction called the “Tilt” as a competitor to Willis Tower’s “Ledge.” Once tourists are strapped in the glass box would lean down, creating downward facing views of the Mag Mile and, possibly, collecting quarts of vomit from people made sick by the experience.

Skyscraper observation decks are big business. Crain’s notes Willis Tower’s annual revenue from the Ledge and Skydeck is nearly $25 million while the Empire State Building in New York rakes in $92 million in observation deck revenue. Willis Tower’s Skydeck attracted 1.6 million visitors last year while attendance at the Hancock Observatory has remained static at around 530,000 guests annually. The Hancock Observatory also has to compete with the Signature Room restaurant and lounge one floor above it.

At 1,128 the Hancock is markedly smaller than Willis but its proximity to Boul Mich and Lake Michigan gives it an upper hand in vantage points. While Montparnasse Group hasn’t revealed specifics the group is hoping to significantly boost tourism to the Hancock with the plan. Crain’s notes other observation deck quirks include a walk around the observation deck ledge of Toronto’s CN Tower (visitors are strapped inside a protective harness) and an 855-foot controlled free fall at the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas.

Given the competition we soon may see the day, as former Time Out Chicago editor-in-chief Frank Sennett remarked, where visitors to an observation deck may soon pay for the privilege of having some guy named Bruno hold them over the ledge of one by the ankles.