Buncher vows to build in the Strip

Even without produce terminal, riverfront project

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The Buncher Co. on Friday said it will proceed with the rest of its $450 million Riverfront Landing development even if its efforts to include the historic produce terminal in the project fall short.

"We're not walking away from the development," Thomas Balestrieri, Buncher president and CEO, said.

Mr. Balestrieri's remarks came a day after he sent Pittsburgh City Council members a letter urging them to reject historic status for the 1,500-foot-long terminal, which Buncher hopes to buy from the Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million.

Historic status could hinder Buncher's plan to demolish one-third of the building, which fronts on Smallman Street, and extend 17th Street from Smallman to the Allegheny River. Buncher also plans a piazza -- comparable in square footage to Market Square -- on that street.

If council confers historic status on the terminal and Buncher can't negotiate an acceptable development plan with the city's Historic Review Commission, Mr. Balestrieri said in the letter, "we will likely have no choice but to walk away ... we will be doing so knowing that we did all we could to advance a project that would benefit so many in our community."

In an interview Friday, Mr. Balestrieri stressed that the company, if unable to reach agreement with the Historic Review Commission, would walk away only from the produce terminal "and leave that for someone else to deal with."

He said Buncher would remain committed to the rest of the development, which is to include residential, office and commercial space on 55 company-owned acres along the river. He noted that a portion of the development's main road already is in.

Developers have proposed building plans for the riverfront site at least since the 1960s. It has been described as one of the best urban riverfront development opportunities in the nation.

Mr. Balestrieri cautioned that development could be slowed and marketing affected if the produce terminal is excluded from the project. He said a prospective condominium owner or building tenant might balk without knowing the future of the hulking Strip District icon.

"I think it's important to know what it is," he said.

Buncher wants to demolish a newer section of the terminal, renovate the rest of the building and fill it with businesses that Mr. Balestrieri said would complement -- not compete with -- existing Strip businesses.

Council will hold a public hearing Nov. 26 on the proposed historic status for the terminal.

Mr. Balestrieri "bought up some good points" in the letter, Councilman Corey O'Connor said, noting the difficulty of balancing development, preservation and public access to the riverfront.

Mr. O'Connor said he'd like to explore the feasibility of conferring historic status only on two-thirds of the building, a scenario that could allow Buncher to demolish the newer portion. He said he's not sure he'd vote to give historic status to the entire building.

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, who is a councilman until January, previously proposed a "third way" that would involve both "decoupling" the terminal from the rest of the Buncher project and providing riverfront access without razing any of the terminal.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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