Third Time is the Charm?

At least that seems to be the case as of yesterday’s announcement on the new PNC skyscraper to occupy Wood Street near the area of Fifth and Forbes. The $400 million project, to be called the Tower at PNC Plaza, is togo without a subsidyas the CEO indicated in printed reports that "PNC will pay for the entire project. It will not seek any public funding".

That’s a welcome and overdue change from the last two building projects undertaken by the company since 1999. The FirstSide Center was a $100 million project that had $11.5 million in public money (11.5% of total); the Three PNC Plaza had $48 million in public funding for the $170 million total price tag (28% of total). Proponents of publicly-funded development often say that the level of public help is supposed to decline as building activity accelerates: clearly that was not the case with PNC as the public subsidy was higher in the more recent development. The previous Governor defended the Three PNC project by saying the company was putting $2.50 for every $1.00 in public money and that job growth would help recoup the public’s investment. The bank’s top official said that project would not have been feasible without a subsidy.

The Mayor is bullish on the latest project, noting that it is part of the third renaissance for Pittsburgh. Maybe the building will lead into the fourth by the time of its completion in 2015-a renaissance in which economic activity is undertaken without public help beyond infrastructure. Perhaps PNC has shown the way.