Randy Stancik, general manager of the Willis Tower, is 6 feet 4 inches tall, but on rare occasions, he measures a bit shorter. Stancik doesn’t have an odd medical condition that periodically reduces his height, but he does have a job that sends him out on a 1.5-inch-thick piece of glass suspended 1,353 feet above ground.
“I am two inches shorter every time I go out there because my knees are bent,” he laughs, describing the buckling of his legs. “It is not natural; my mom didn’t raise me to walk out of skyscrapers.”
Stancik runs the Willis Tower’s Skydeck observation area on the 103rd floor. Popular at the Skydeck are three glass boxes that project 4.3 feet from the building façade. Without visible means of support, the boxes allow unobstructed views up, out and straight down.
If the Ledge brings a reaction like this to a man who works on the Skydeck every day, imagine what it does to its 4,000 daily visitors. Stancik does have stories, including one about a man skipping across the Skydeck floor.
“I’m from Ecuador,” he told Stancik. “We don’t even have hills this tall in Ecuador.”
Or the group of senior citizens, who had lived through the Depression and World War II.
“There were 15 or 20 – some in walkers – and I wanted to see their reactions,” Stancik recalls. “This hardcore group of battle-tested folks looked like they were five years old. There was excitement and maybe a little bit of apprehension.”
Short and tall, old and young, the reactions almost always are a mix of excitement and apprehension. As a compromise, notes Stancik, many visitors just take two steps out on the Ledge, have a picture taken and take two steps off, without looking down. Testament to the bravery of visitors, a side room built for those who might get cold feet usually sits empty.
The Skydeck is only four years old. Stancik said the team that built it knew the structure would be a hit right from the start.
“We did zero market research, but we knew it would be great,” says Stancik, who was involved in the entire process, including the design phase in which engineers had to figure out how to build the Ledge without hampering window washing for the floors directly below. The answer, borrowed from methods used to change sets in stage productions, involves fully retracting each Ledge about every two months to clean the entire glass box and give window washers unfettered access to the entire building façade.
The Ledge boosted Skydeck attendance by an estimated 500,000 visitors annually and brought new buzz to the Willis Tower. In combination with a private event center on the 99th floor, the Skydeck hosts weddings, holiday celebrations and even the occasional fraternity party – “I never thought that would happen here,” Stancik offers.
Events take on an added aura when visitors look out across four states and straight down to pavement a quarter-mile below. Ledge loiterers get an additional treat when cloud decks drop below the Ledge floor, providing a sense of motion, even though the Ledge is completely still.
“Feel like Superman feels,” Stancik tells visitors. “Lay on your belly, and with clouds moving or with other movement below, it is a different kind of vibe.”
People leave the Skydeck with their photos and their stories, which filter out to friends and family all over the world.
“These people become our evangelists,” concludes Stancik, “We are in the business of creating memories and experiences.”