Give the money back, FNB Corp.
You may recall that the Pittsburgh banking giant is receiving at least $10 million in state taxpayer money to help It build a $220 million, 26-story office tower on the old Civic Arena property in the city’s Hill District.
In recognizing what in reality is the latest round of corporate wealthfare, Vincent J. Delie, the bank’s chairman, president and CEO, gave the typical canned yada-yada-yada statement:
“Our project required thoughtful collaboration with state and local government, as well as our business partners and members of the community, and we are excited that this development will provide significant value and opportunities for all of our stakeholders.”
But wait, it got better:
Bank spokeswoman Jennifer Reel argued that taxpayer dollars are “necessary to continue FNB’s investment in the project in a post-COVID economic environment.”
The clear intimation is that the tower would not be built without millions in taxpayer sweeteners.
“We believe this is a priority project for the city and region because it creates several thousand construction and permanent jobs, generates millions in tax revenue and helps restart our economy at a critical moment,” she said.
But there would be $10 million more in “our economy at a critical moment” if Pennsylvania officials weren’t allowing FNB to be the public kitty sucker fish that it is.
Fast-forward to last week when this obviously pauper financial institution announced that it was acquiring Howard Bancorp Inc. and its Howard Bank subsidiary in an all-stock transition valued at approximately $418 million.
Put another way – nearly half-a-billion dollars.
From a joint news release, we learn that Howard Bank has about $2.6 billion in assets (vs. about $38 billion for FNB). It operates 13 full-service offices in Baltimore and the greater Washington, D.C. area.
The transaction is expected to be completed in early 2022 and expands FNB’s market presence in the Maryland, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia region.
Why, again, should taxpayers be underwriting this now soon to be even larger and richer banking behemoth? Clearly – and much like PNC before it years ago – it can afford to pay full freight for its new tony skyscraper.
And, hey, if it can’t? Well, it is a bank. Get a loan.
Additionally, taxpayer dollars once again are being used to exacerbate a serious glut of top-notch office space in the greater Downtown footprint – and at the considerable expense and handicap to non-subsidized space struggling to boost occupancy.
Do remember, again, that the very high office vacancy rate pre-dated the coronavirus pandemic; the pandemic only exacerbated it. There remain serious questions about recovery rates considering continuing work-from-home habits.
And money being fungible, think of this: Pennsylvania taxpayers now additionally are helping FNB acquire Howard Bancorp.
Two reprehensible corporate acts don’t make acceptable public policy. As we noted at the outset, FNB should give back taxpayers their $10 million, pay for its own office tower and, by extension, pay for its own business expansion.
Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (email@example.com).