URA approves deal for Strip development

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The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority board on Thursday advanced a proposed partnership with a local developer to transform 80 acres along the Allegheny riverfront from the Strip District to Lawrenceville.

Board members unanimously approved a letter of intent with the Buncher Co. to enter into an agreement to collaborate on redeveloping the URA-owned produce terminal in the Strip and Buncher property behind it as well as two parcels in Lawrenceville, one owned by the developer and one by the URA.

The city envisions riverfront housing, commercial and industrial development, and recreational amenities along the 6.5-mile stretch from Downtown to Highland Park. One key goal of the plan is to reconnect portions of Lawrenceville and the Strip to the river.

"This is really a regional transformative type of project along the Allegheny River," said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, a URA board member.

While the plan could take years or decades to develop, some elements already have emerged. A proposed master plan envisions about 1,000 units of riverfront housing on Buncher property in the Strip District behind the produce terminal. More housing would dot the river bank in Lawrenceville. There also is talk of a new trolley line possibly linking the Strip and Lawrenceville.

One controversial element of the plan involves the iconic produce terminal. Wholesalers, some of whom have been there decades, fear they will be kicked out and relocated once their leases expire in 2012.

However, URA board chairman Yarone Zober, chief of staff to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said after Thursday's meeting that "right now there are no plans to move out any wholesalers."

Mr. Zober said the city would be working with the merchants, Neighbors in the Strip, and the Buncher Co. to determine the "highest and best use" of the site.

But like the mayor on Tuesday, Mr. Zober would not guarantee that the produce wholesalers would remain once their leases expire, repeating only that right now there are no plans to move anyone.

An issue that could touch a nerve with preservationists are renderings that show sections of the terminal removed to allow for streets to be extended from the heart of the Strip to the riverfront.

The Buncher Co. has discussed such a possibility in the past, saying the long five-block terminal poses a barrier to development.

Mr. Zober said removing sections of the terminal to create pass-throughs is "certainly something we're considering." But he added there are still marketing studies to be done to determine uses for the terminal as well as historical issues to be examined.

"Right now everything is preliminary," he said.

Also Thursday, the board approved a series of financial transactions relating to the new Target store in East Liberty, including a $2.5 million Pittsburgh Development Fund loan. Developer Mosites Co. hopes to close on the Target deal in the next couple of months and get the $25 million store construction started this summer.

The board also approved a $1 million loan to an affiliate of the Soffer Organization to help complete financing for the $8 million Toby Keith I Love This Bar and Grill restaurant at SouthSide Works.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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