Strip District produce terminal has other development suitors

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The Buncher Co. isn't the only one interested in redeveloping the Strip District's iconic produce terminal.

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said Wednesday developers from Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania have talked to him about reusing the structure and that they have the money to invest in the project.

Unlike Buncher, which wants to tear down the western third of the building as part of its $450 million Riverfront Landing development, the others would keep the 1,533-foot-long building intact, Mr. Peduto said.

The three developers are in addition to the team led by Downtown architect Rob Pfaffmann, who has been pitching an idea to convert the terminal, once the hub for produce wholesalers, into a 21st-century incubator for the food economy and unique retail shops. He also is committed to keeping the building intact.

Mr. Peduto made his comments after council delayed a preliminary vote Wednesday on a city historic designation for the terminal that would make it much harder for Buncher to proceed with its plans.

Buncher is proposing to demolish 529 feet of the structure to clear a path to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its residential and office development.

Buncher has an option to purchase the building from the city Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million in a deal that runs until the end of 2015.

Mr. Peduto would not identify the other developers interested in the property. He said the Pennsylvania and Ohio interests have done work in Pittsburgh and that the other from Dallas is "intrigued by the proposal of the building." All are interested in doing "a multiuse" for the 84-year-old structure.

Whatever happens must be done within the context of the URA's option agreement with Buncher, he said. As a result, Buncher may have some role in the redevelopment of the terminal even if other developers are brought in, said Mr. Peduto, who is in his last weeks as a councilman.

"Whether they become a partner with it or how that works out, they will be at the table. We're going to be respectful of that option agreement," he said.

"The goal is to preserve that building, to see their development happen, and to have the ability to have a mixed use in that facility. Now whether that means it's done through Buncher or whether it's done through another developer, both options are on the table."

Buncher previously has said that if the historic designation is approved and it can't reach agreement with the historic review commission on a "mutually acceptable rehabilitation plan," it may walk away from the terminal project, though not the overall riverfront redevelopment.

Mr. Peduto, who favors the historic designation, envisions a redeveloped terminal that would have three portals to allow access from the Strip to the river and the residential and office components. That would leave four separate sections of the building to be redeveloped.

He saw the terminal as "a linchpin between the traditional Penn Avenue shopping and what will end up becoming the Allegheny River residential-office [development], and that building can be a gateway between both with the portals that would be able to connect them."

He said he became energized about the potential for the terminal after a visit last month to Seattle's Pike Place Market, which at one point was targeted for demolition.

"It's now become one of the top tourist attractions and an iconic symbol of a new Seattle. We can do the same or even better with the Pittsburgh terminal building," he said.

Buncher has proposed rehabilitating the terminal, minus the section that would be demolished, at a cost of up to $25 million, all with its own money, and converting it into office and restaurant space. It has argued that its plan is the best way to preserve the terminal, which has fallen into disrepair and is need of major renovations.

Even if the historic designation is defeated, Mr. Peduto believes council has the ability to set conditions on the Buncher redevelopment in approving the sale of the terminal to the developer. One reason council delayed a vote Wednesday was to get legal advice on that point.

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


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262. First Published December 11, 2013 1:30 PM

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