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The High Life

What’s it like residing above everyone else in town? Ask Sanjay Shah, the new owner of the Trump Tower penthouse.

Photo: Clayton Hauck

The elevator ride to the penthouse at Trump International Hotel & Tower takes about one minute. Which, it turns out, is also how long it takes to sing The Jeffersons theme song. Well, we’re movin’ on up … to a dee-luxe apartment in the skyyyy …

George and Weezy were on only the 12th floor. Sanjay Shah, the 46-year-old software mogul who plopped down $17 million in cash in December for the 14,260-square-foot uppermost Trump unit, is on the 89th—and living higher above ground than anybody else not only in Chicago but in the entire Western Hemisphere.

OK, Shah isn’t living there quite yet. The joint is still raw space, just concrete floors, and will take more than a year (and many more millions of dollars) to be ready for Shah’s family to use as a second home. (Actually, fourth home—in addition to their primary residence in South Barrington, they have places in Germany and India.)

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When the moving trucks do pull up, Shah will find that life at such a height (1,116 feet, to be exact) isn’t just extravagant—it’s different. Water, for example, boils at two degrees lower than the customary 212. The weather is about five degrees colder (you can open the lower windows, by the way). And you won’t see any birds soaring by because birds generally can’t be bothered to fly that high.

Mostly what’s different, of course, are the views. The best: the once-mighty skyscrapers to the north, unfolding along the sun-drenched shoreline. The worst: the tops of the Marina City towers, which are unspeakably ugly. The funniest: the Bean, which looks about the size of, well, a bean. And the most unfortunate: a small, unremarkable building blocking Pritzker Pavilion. If I were Shah, I’d buy that building and have it destroyed.

So what motivates a man to purchase a place that lords over nearly everything?

“I haven’t really found anything quite as exotic as this,” says Shah, who grew up in a middle-class Mumbai neighborhood and immigrated here in 1988.

He’ll mainly use the space to wine and dine clients of his Hoffman Estates–based ­business-software company, Vistex, and hold events for its philanthropic arm. (He plans to build a boardroom.) And he’s already looking forward to having a few friends over (nobody I’ve heard of, he says) to watch the Navy Pier fireworks.

Plus, if you do the math, Shah got himself something of a bargain. It costs $19.50 to go to the top of the Willis Tower. If he visits his penthouse 871,795 times, it will start paying for itself.

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