PNC puts last steel beam on new Downtown headquarters

Tom Fontaine
| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 12:45 p.m.

PNC Financial Services Group reached a milestone on Tuesday in its $400 million project to build a corporate headquarters, lifting the last steel beam needed for construction 33 stories above Downtown in an event that drew hundreds of people.

The Tower at PNC Plaza will reduce PNC's expenses — though it did not say by how much — by consolidating employees spread across the city into the energy-efficient skyscraper at Fifth and Wood streets. PNC worked to cut costs by $700 million last year by closing branches.

“We're building a hard-working building,” said Gary Saulson, PNC's director of corporate real estate.

Saulson said The Tower — scheduled to open in fall 2015 — will use 50 percent less energy than a traditional office building and its water recycling system will cut annual water consumption by 77 percent.

Saulson said it is “the only true, double-skinned building under construction in America,” noting it will feature exterior and interior glass walls that are separated by a 30-inch cavity. Vents on the outside wall will let fresh air into the cavity.

“We'll be able to open windows (on the interior wall) and naturally ventilate the building” during about half of the year, based on normal weather conditions, Saulson said.

All the glass, along with the positioning of the building, will bring in more sunlight that allows employees to often work without turning on office lights, Saulson said.

Company officials wouldn't identify the divisions that will be in the new building, but said the move would allow PNC to consolidate a scattered workforce. About 2,200 employees will be based in The Tower.

“We have employees going back to the National City merger who are scattered in different buildings across the city in less than ideal environments,” said President and CEO Bill Demchak.

Saulson said the other spaces are a mix of offices that PNC owns and leases — and potential tenants have expressed interest in occupying many of the spaces that PNC will leave.

“Pittsburgh has one of the lowest office vacancy rates in the country. ... We don't believe we're creating any vacancy in the market,” Saulson said.

Hundreds looked on as workers lifted the 30-foot-long steel beam to the top of The Tower in just under three minutes on Tuesday. Construction workers and company officials signed it before it went skyward with an American flag, broom and small evergreen tree attached. The broom was intended to denote the project's clean safety record, while the tiny tree symbolized good luck.

“We've been here on the corner of Fifth and Wood for 162 years, and we hope to be here for at least another 162 years,” Demchak said at the event.

A PNC-run website dedicated to the project said The Tower is 48 percent done. It will be the tallest to be built Downtown since the 31-story Fifth Avenue Place went up in 1988 at the end of the Golden Triangle's 1980s building boom, when six towers between 27 and 54 stories sprang up.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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