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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Green PNC Tower Opens With High Hopes

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 FM WESA

PNC’s 800,000 square foot office building in downtown Pittsburgh is being hailed by locals not only as one of the greenest buildings in the world but also as a sign of great things to come for the region.

The 33-story "Tower at PNC Plaza" at the corner of Fifth Ave. and Wood St. was designed from the beginning to receive the highest level of LEED certification.  From the way it was drawn up by the architects to include two glass walls to allow for better air flow and the use of natural light, to the way the old buildings that used to stand on the block were removed and recycled the goal has been clear, even if the reason for being green has been multi-faceted.

“We do it because it’s good for the environment, we do it because it reduces operating costs but mostly we do it because it’s great for our employees,” said Bill Demchak, President and CEO, PNC Financial Services.  “The work spaces are open and inviting and fun, and people are more productive.”

The construction included relatively new materials and techniques in an effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible.  That meant keeping the construction workers up to date on their skills.

“They get trained and they get retrained when new things come out and this just goes to show you the product, it’s just beautiful,” said Jack Shea, President, Allegheny County Labor Council, AFL-CIO.  “It’s not just a job, it’s actually their life, it’s what they do.”

PNC expects the tower to consume 50 percent less energy and 77 percent less water than a typical office building.

Union leaders said they hope the workers’ new skills will be in demand and so does Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.  At the official opening of the building Fitzgerald praised the region for its ability to attract new employers through its high quality of life and new vitality seen through companies like Google and Kennametal making commitments to the city.

PNC seems to be drilling its roots a little deeper in the region with the opening of the office tower.

“We have a long term history here and the town has treated us fantastically well and it’s important for us to give back.” Demchak said at the opening celebration. “Pittsburgh is our home town and it always will be.”

Allegheny Conference on Community development spokesperson Bill Flanagan said the commitment PNC has made to the region is much appreciated. The building is expected to house more than 2,000 PNC employees. He said the fact that PNC’s business footprint is so large now that it could have built a new headquarters anywhere but it chose Pittsburgh is a big vote of confidence for the region.

Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA
The Tower at PNC Plaza rises up from Wood Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. The LEED Platinum Certified building opened Thursday.

But is the region’s reliance on PNC and Mellon for employment an echo of how the region leaned on the steel industry?

“It is a concern, we all learned the hard way 40 years ago,” said Flanagan.  “I think the good news today is the economy here is diverse.  Financial and business service is important but it’s the only part of the economy so it’s great to have them here but it’s not like we depend on them completely.”