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PNC restores historic Downtown Pittsburgh bank building as call center

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By Sam Spatter
Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 8:38 p.m.
 

A historic Downtown building regained some of its original grandeur when granted new life as a call center.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. restored the six-story original Mellon Bank branch at 500 Smithfield St., giving 700 employees six well-designed floors in which to work and a cafe and training room. PNC finished the restoration and moved its employees to the building in November.

It's an atypical call center, said Deb Madigan, PNC director of talent and employee advocacy, who oversees its operation.

“Most call centers are not located in high-rise buildings,” said Madigan, noting that the relocation of employees from U.S. Steel Tower to a midtown location gives employees more outlets for food, shopping and recreation.

Gary Saulson, PNC executive vice president and director of corporate real estate, took on the job of restoring the building. He would not disclose the cost.

“By relocating our call center to a building we own, we save about $1 million annually,” Saulson said.

For years, people who came and went in the building would not have known its glorious past.

Lord & Taylor occupied it from 2000 to 2004 and had removed many of the architectural features that made it a showplace and led to its city historic designation in July 1999.

The retailer was enticed to buy the building when former Mayor Tom Murphy devised a plan to revitalize the Fifth and Forbes avenues commercial corridor. The city sank $11.8 million of taxpayer money into the deal once May Department Stores Co. bought the building for $9.25 million from Mellon Financial Services Group in 1999.

The building's layout did not fit the needs of a retail store. Lord & Taylor made major changes, turning a building with two floors into a five-floor store. Crews removed all but four marble columns, boarded windows with drywall and installed an escalator and new elevators.

PNC bought the building in 2012 for $3.85 million from J.J. Gumberg Co., which acquired it from May Co. for $2.5 million in 2005. It had remained empty once the Lord & Taylor store closed.

Many items removed in the Lord & Taylor makeover were stored in a sub-basement, Saulson said — among them, a bronze chandelier with 10 lights that has been refurbished, rewired to accept LED bulbs and hung on the fifth floor.

Other finds: bronze doors from offices and conference rooms; bronze ornaments that adorned doorways; vault gates; marble desks; velvet ropes that cordoned off lines to teller windows at the old bank; two lampposts from the Oliver Avenue entrance; and four marble columns that reach four stories tall.

PNC employees are using the 1,200-pound marble desks as tables in the first-floor Eco Bistro cafeteria. The bronze doors, weighing up to 250 pounds, no longer meet code requirements for doors and became café screening.

Gone is the drywall, opening the windows to bring sunlight inside.

It's a far cry from some call centers in dreary office buildings, strip shopping malls or converted warehouses, employees say.

Keith Hagerty, a vice president and branch support hotline group leader, finds the surroundings “awesome.”

“Our space in U.S. Steel Tower was converted office space into a call center, which left a lot to be desired,” he said.

Sam Spatter is Trib Total Media's real estate writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or sspatter@tribweb.com.

 

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