Nearby businesses can't escape effects as PNC tower goes up in Downtown Pittsburgh

Tom Fontaine
| Sunday, June 8, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

As a $400 million project to build PNC Financial Services Group's new corporate headquarters nears the midpoint, surrounding business owners are anxiously awaiting completion of Downtown's biggest skyscraper in more than a quarter-century.

Some look forward to an anticipated boost in business. Others long for their misery to end.

“It's tough to complain about progress, but this project has definitely been a struggle for us,” said Rob Kania, owner of Metropolitan Preschool & Nursery, which runs a Fifth Avenue facility in the shadow of the project.

Most agree The Tower at PNC Plaza will become a jewel in the city's skyline. PNC hopes it will be the world's most environmentally friendly office building.

“In the long run, it will be great for Pittsburgh. And if it's good for Pittsburgh, I'm all for it,” said John Vazquez, owner of Steelers Country, which sells Steelers, Pirates and Penguins merchandise out of a Forbes Avenue storefront.

PNC, which declined to comment, expects to complete work in summer 2015.

A PNC-run website dedicated to the project said the 33-story building is 42 percent done. The steel tower structure is 85 percent finished, with completion of that part of the work expected this summer. Contractors have completed about one-fifth of the building's interior work, which began in April.

The tower will be the tallest building raised Downtown since the 31-story Fifth Avenue Place went up in 1988 at the end of the Golden Triangle's 1980s building boom. Five other towers, ranging from 27 stories to 54, sprang up that decade.

It also will increase PNC's Downtown footprint, which includes the 30-story One PNC Plaza, 34-story Two PNC Plaza, 23-story Three PNC Plaza and five-story PNC Firstside Center on First Avenue.

“It's amazing for the neighborhood. We're extremely excited to be across the street,” said Casey Henderlong, managing partner of the upscale Capital Grille on Fifth Avenue.

Kania, of Metropolitan Preschool & Nursery, recognizes the project's positive economic impact, citing the boost in construction jobs. PNC says construction will employ about 2,500 people during the course of the project, with 500 at peak times.

But Kania can't ignore the impact the project has had on his business. The Fifth Avenue facility's enrollment of 90 is down 25 percent since the project began two years ago, Kania said. Parking problems and occasional road closures made dropping off and picking up children too difficult for some parents.

“We expect enrollment to rebound when the project is done,” Kania said.

Charles Lee, owner of The Headgear, a hat store on Forbes Avenue, said the project has slowed business and forced dust and incessant construction noise into his store. He says a contractor's error once knocked out the store's phone service for three days, a problem other business owners recounted.

Lee worries about work to replace the sidewalk in front of his store, which he has been told will start in August.

“No one from PNC has come by, sent a letter or called on the phone to say they're sorry for any inconvenience — and I even use one of their merchant services systems,” Lee said, pointing to a credit card processing machine on a shelf behind the counter. “They're not worried about the little guy.”

Behrooz Rahimzadeh, owner of Mamma Lucia's Pizza on Wood Street, said his business struggled during the first year of construction.

“It just started picking up like crazy the last few months,” Rahimzadeh said, estimating up to 60 construction workers eat at the restaurant daily and make up for customers lost when a bus stop across the street closed because of the project.

PNC says The Tower will house about 2,200 employees.

“If I can get 10 percent of that, I don't know if I can handle it,” Rahimzadeh said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy