Bill Demchak is the Chairman, President, and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., the largest bank in the region and one of the companies with the most presence downtown. He gave a frank assessment of what's needed to revive the Golden Triangle at the annual meeting for the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
Demchak said that being in the downtown business district was a requirement. He made this statement at a meeting held at the Union Trust Building on Thursday afternoon. Today, thanks to technology and the lessons Covid taught us about business districts, we have a choice.
Demchak asked how much it would take to get his employees back to the PNC offices downtown.
He estimated that 12,000 people were working in the PNC offices in downtown Toronto before the pandemic.
He added that 4,000 to 5,000 of these employees work virtually, and are unlikely to return downtown due their personal circumstances.
Demchak said that of the remaining employees, maybe 3,000 will be at the various offices on a busy day.
He said, "It's me against them. It's full force of my will." The problem is that they still have the choice.
Demchak was the only corporate leader at a PDP annual meeting, which included the majority of the organization's leaders along with a host of political figures, including Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Allegheny County CEO Rich Fitzgerald in his final appearance as chief executive, as well as the new Lieutenant Governor. Austin Davis from McKeesport.
Gainey outlined the challenges to getting the downtown to a stable level, now that, like all downtowns, it has been affected by the pandemic, and the shift in societal attitudes towards remote work and hybrid arrangements.
Gainey said, "Downtown won't be the same as it was 10 Years ago." "Tomorrow's all we have."
Gainey praised the total $9 million funding for a new fund that will help owners of downtown buildings convert their outdated office properties into new residential uses.
Davis outlined plans of the new administration. Josh Shapiro will dedicate $100 million of the new budget for student mental health, and other funding in order to alleviate the epidemic of gun violence that is destroying central business districts across the state.
Demchak outlined PNC's efforts to address the immediate needs of downtown Pittsburgh, particularly around its offices. This included investing and spearheading the new Second Avenue Commons Shelter as well as spending upwards of 40 million dollars to purchase a large block of land across from PNC's headquarters on Wood Street.
He said, "We didn't require that space." "We had to clean that space."
Applause greeted his announcement that a portion of the space would be used to build a new building for public safety as well as a sub-zone police station.
Demchak was gruff and frustrated at times, especially in regards to the response PNC received regarding its investment on Wood Street. He added that the appropriate reply should be "Thank you...how can you help me?" But added, "that's not what it is today."
Demchak also emphasized PNC's commitment to the downtown offices of its employees, citing increased parking, shuttles, and security.
He said, "Today, we shuttled in about 1,000 people from North Shore." "We have police, guards and dogs surrounding our buildings."
Demchak stressed that it is important to protect PNC employees, especially since they do not want to be in the workplace.
He also believes that there is a lack of a realistic understanding about the problem of vacant space and a need to have honest discussions on how to improve downtown.
To get people to come back downtown, they must want to. "You have to create an environment that encourages that," he said. "The streets are dirty."
Both he and PNC acknowledged the challenges downtown.
He said to PNC employees, "I wish that I knew what would make them want be here." "You need to make it simple and today is not."
The PDP presented various signs of improvement in downtown as well as its various initiatives. These included the facade grant program and advocating for residential conversion programs.
The PDP reported that downtown activity has grown by 56% in the last two years. The PDP detailed its efforts to clean up downtown, as well as its Golden Triangle Ambassador Program. This program is a social service that aims to connect people in need to support services, the police and visitors.