Blackstone’s Willis Tower Closes to Tenants Due to Flooding

(Bloomberg) -- Blackstone Group LP’s Willis Tower is temporarily closed to tenants after flooding knocked out power overnight to the iconic Chicago skyscraper.

The flooding forced United Airlines Holdings Inc. to shut down the operations center in its headquarters and evacuate flight dispatchers through darkened stairwells of the 110-story building. The carrier nonetheless has been able to run its global network without interruption -- in part because of provisions already in place for the Covid-19 outbreak that spread out workers to different sites.

Blackstone’s Willis Tower Closes to Tenants Due to Flooding

The iconic skyscraper, known until 2009 as the Sears Tower, remained temporarily closed to tenants Monday, according to a spokesperson for Blackstone’s office unit. United is the largest occupant.

In March, United reopened a back-up operations center at its former suburban headquarters in Elk Grove Village as one step toward enabling safe distancing for employees. Both nerve centers work in tandem to track flights, assign crews and tackle customer-service issues. The carrier also encouraged staff to work from home.

“As a result of interruption to certain Willis building services due to heavy rains, United employees have been instructed to work remotely,” Rachael Rivas, a United spokesperson said by email. “United’s flight operations have not been impacted.”

Willis Tower has been especially hard hit by flooding across the Chicago area, after the already saturated city received as much as three inches of rain Sunday. Municipal workers reversed the flow of the Chicago River early Monday morning to help drain the office building’s basements and an adjacent street, said Tom Dominguez, a spokesman for Commonwealth Edison Co.

A substation that provides electricity to the skyscraper was still three feet underwater at midday, Dominguez said. The utility company also was working to get a backup generator on site, he said. The power outage is confined to the block where the Willis Tower is located. United is the largest tenant, renting 850,000 square feet across 16 floors, according to a website for the building.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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