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CHICAGO-Williams Montgomery & John Ltd. has signed a 15-year lease for 34,000 square feet on the 61st floor of the Sears Tower. The law firm will move in late summer to the 3.8-million-square-foot tower at 233 S. Wacker from the Civic Opera House, at 20 N. Wacker Dr. where it has been located for more than four decades.

The firm was represented by Bob Chodos and Steve Levitas of Colliers Bennett & Kahnweiler, while the Sears Tower was represented by Derek Rolison and Mike Kazmierczak, SVPs with U.S Equities Asset Management LLC, which acts as the building’s management and leasing agent.

“Most of the life of the firm has been in the Civic Opera House location, but the firm was growing and needed to look at new space,” Rolison tells GlobeSt.com. “The unobstructed views from the offices and the amenity package were big drivers, and they considered locating in the Sears Tower as an asset for recruiting. The location was ideal because they were already in the West Loop and wanted to remain in the area for its proximity to trains, public transportation and the court system.”

Williams will move in shortly after insurance company Willis is expected to take occupancy of its 140,000 square feet in mid-summer. These two companies are among others that have signed a total of 267,000 square feet in leases at the Sears Tower in 2009 so far. Willis’ deal is the source of the impending name change for the iconic 110-story building, soon to be known as Willis Tower, which is now 85% leased.

“We’re seeing other markets across the country that are having challenges, but at this building, there’s been a lot of consistent activity converting into leases,” Rolison says. “The activity at the building has been resulting in a lot of solid commitments and actual leases, whether it be new deals or renewals. We’ve had a strong first quarter and there are more deals to come.”

Asking lease rates at the building range from $15 to $21 per square foot net, Rolison says. Built in 1973, the property is owned by 233 S. Wacker LLC, which includes American Landmark Properties, the Chetrit Group and the Moinian Group. The move marks an expansion for Williams, which was previously located in 25,000 square feet.

“It’s going to give them some flexibility for growth, and a really competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting,” Rolison says. “They realize a lot of benefit from the Metropolitan business club we have here, as well as the fitness and conference facilities and many food and retail options. The 40,000-square-foot floor plate was the right size for them and the incredible views, unparalleled amenity package and it being a recognizable building make it a top recruiting element for them.”

The property is in the West Loop submarket, where asking lease rates range from $32 to $38 per square foot and occupancy rates are near 86%, according to Grubb & Ellis’ Q1 office market report.

“West Loop is the strongest and definitely the best-performing market in Chicago,” Rolison says. “Most firms have interest in being in the West Loop because of access and proximity, being walking distance to the train stations, so the submarket is holding up pretty well.”

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