Sears Tower opens doors to tsunami relief

By Kat Glass

The Sears Tower will serve as the location for the first-ever Skyscraper Challenge, a charity event for South Asian tsunami victims, spearheaded by University of Chicago students.

On Tuesday, officials from CB Richard Ellis, the management company of the tower, gave the go-ahead for the University to use one of the world’s tallest buildings to host the event. The proceeds will be donated to Direct Relief International.

Students who sign up for the climb, which is tentatively set for April 16, will endure a 103-story stair climb and then celebrate by partying in the Sky Deck of the Sears Tower.

If each participant solicits money from friends and family to raise the minimum amount of $70, the climb could rake in at the least $70,000 for Direct Relief. Event organizers are setting their sights beyond the $70,000 and hoping that climbers will raise even more than the minimum fee. The number of climbers is capped at 1000, and will include registrants from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Direct Relief provides “essential material resources to locally run health programs in poor areas around the world and during times of disaster,” according to the organization’s website. In its response to the tsunami, Direct Relief has provided more than $10.6 million in medical support to an estimated 1.2 million people in India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Event organizers are ambitiously seeking to extend the project beyond the Chicagoland area. At the Chicago Model United Nations conference this weekend, Skyscraper Challenge committee members will be spreading the idea to participating schools with the hope that the project will be emulated at other universities. “I think college campuses across the country can organize events like these for free,” Clayman said. He cited ambitious students and the lack of public relations fees as factors conducive to organizing such a project.

Organizers also hope that this will not be the last stair climb to hit campus. “This business model cuts costs in half and gets students and youth involved in philanthropy, hopefully on an annual basis,” Clayman said.

With two months to spare until the date of the climb, committee members are rushing to cement contracts with corporate sponsors. They hope to secure multiple sponsors in each of the following brackets: $5000, $3000, and $1000. So far, Barnes & Noble, Inc. has pledged $1000.

Without giving a definitive answer, David Shields, the general manager of Barnes & Noble, addressed annual funding: “We don’t commit to something long-range like that, but it is definitely the type of thing that we would be part of on a regular basis,” he said.

Aramark has promised to donate all of the food for the event, which Clayman estimates will total between $2000 and $3000.

The proposal for funding from the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC) was denied on Tuesday because the event’s date and location had not been finalized.

Now that CB Richard Ellis has approved the project and the date is set for April 16—contingent on final University approval—the Challenge “is eligible for funding according to the guidelines,” said Vincenzo Barbetta, the chair of the SGFC.

The recent confirmation of the event’s location has brought an excited stir among event organizers, who have been working feverishly since the beginning of the quarter. “When I found out that the proposal was approved, of course, like everyone I am sure, I was excited and enthused,” Sneha Ramakrishna, an event organizer and a second-year in the College, said.

Because the planning is kicking into high gear, the Skyscraper Challenge organizers are scrambling to recruit more volunteers. “There’s an unlimited amount of work that could be done,” Clayman said. Clayman emphasized that he wants the event to involve as much of the University community as possible.

Participants are not limited to students. Bill Michel, the assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the College, hopes to climb to the top of the Sears Tower. “This is the first project that I know of that is trying to make use of the entire city, and I think that’s terrific,” Michel said.

Joshua Motta, an organizer and the web manager for the event, anticipates that the registration website,, will be running by the time the Maroon is published. Anyone with questions about the event should e-mail