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Bike valet service gets rolling at Willis Tower

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Updated: April 28, 2013 7:05AM

As the tallest building in North America, Willis Tower aims for the top, and officials think they’ve hit it for bicycle commuters with a new “bike valet’’ service.

For $250 a year, commuters can hand off their bikes to valets in the morning, and call the Willis Tower lobby at work day’s end to ready their bikes for the ride home.

Ordering up bike valet service by text message is next on the horizon.

A string of free services also comes with the annual tab — a yearly bike tune-up, four bike washes, and storage in a heated garage with 24/7 security-camera monitoring.

Basic monthly storage with bike valet service is also available for $25 a month, but the annual program is “one of the best deals in town,’’ says Jenna Obluck, who bikes to her United Airlines office at Willis Tower, 233 S. Wacker, about 10 months a year.

“You’re getting a lot of extra amenities. I can’t believe you’re getting that much.’’

After three bikes were stolen from her Ravenswood condo, Obluck said she especially appreciates the secured storage, and “I’m really excited about getting my bike tuneup for spring.’’

Willis Tower General Manager Gary Michon said the rates that debuted this month are meant to encourage year-round bike commuting just as the city moves to provide 110 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015.

“Being Willis Tower, we want to offer the best,’’ said Michon, who thought up the bike valet idea in response to prospective tenant inquiries about bicycle storage.

“I don’t know any other commercial building in Chicago that is offering a bike valet,’’ said Michon, who even checked for competitors with the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago.

The fees are up from last year’s $200-a-year and $20-a-month rates for lock-your-own-bike storage. But Michon figures he’s throwing in $120 in extra services for the new annual rate.

“We think it’s a great new concept.’’

Last year, two car parking spots — which rent out for $630 each a month — were each used to store 30 bikes, hanging from their wheels. Michon recently converted two more parking spots to bike storage areas and added bike locks with the valet service. He hopes to eventually devote three more car spaces to bikes.

Scott Sanderson, a patent attorney who bicycles 11 miles round trip most every day to his Willis Tower office, says he’s heard a few “mixed reviews” about the new valet service by some who question the rate increase.

However, said Sanderson, “I think it’s great. They are really trying to make it easier for us. . . .

“I think it’s very reasonable, because I know how valuable those spots are. They could be parking a car there. They’ve added a lot of services. The building didn’t have to do this.’’

Obluch wants to break a sweat when she bikes to work and showers at a Willis health club before hitting the office. But Sanderson has a far different approach.

He said he was inspired by a 2005 visit to Amsterdam to buy a Dutch bike with enclosed chains that allows him to bike to work in a suit coat and tie — Amsterdam-style. On Tuesday, he even used the bike valet at midday to make a meeting with client Groupon.

“It’s 1.4 miles from here.’’ said Sanderson as he hopped on a waiting bike. “It’s the perfect way to get there.’’

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