No historic status for Strip District produce terminal

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City Council has rejected a historic designation for the produce terminal in a preliminary vote, but that does not mean any part of the Strip District landmark will be coming down soon.

Council on Wednesday could not muster the six votes needed to anoint the building as a city historic structure, a move that could have helped to protect it against a possible partial demolition. But the vote in large part was anti-climatic and absent the kind of tension that marked the debate over the terminal's future earlier this year.

That's because the Buncher Co. has agreed to put on hold its plan to demolish the western third of the structure to clear a path to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River while it meets with Mayor Bill Peduto to explore options that could leave the building intact.

Although council's decision, barring a last-minute change of heart, makes it easier for Buncher to raze part of the building, Michael Kutzer, the company's vice president of real estate, stressed after Wednesday's vote that it has no intention of doing so right now.

He said Buncher is committed to working with the new mayor on possible alternatives. Those discussions could take three to six months.

"We've agreed that we're going to work with the new administration. We're going to pursue and look at these other alternatives. And until that is fleshed out, no, there will not be any demolition taking place or anything of that nature," he said.

He added that Buncher, which has an option to buy the terminal from the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million, still must get approval from council for the sale of the building before any demolition could take place.

Nonetheless, he described the vote against the designation as the "right decision for the produce terminal and for its potential renovation" adding that it gives a developer more flexibility. Buncher has been seeking to raze part of the building as part of the proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing residential and office project to be built around it.

Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto's chief of staff, said Buncher has committed in good faith to working with the administration. That's what's needed at this point, he said.

"I think today's vote doesn't get in the way of what we're trying to accomplish. What we're trying to accomplish, and what the mayor has charged me with, is bringing stakeholders together and see if we can find a way to do this in a manner that does not result in the demolition of one-third of the building," he said.

Mr. Peduto is scheduled to meet again with Buncher on Friday. He has said that he has spoken to developers from Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania with an interest in redeveloping the terminal, once the hub for produce wholesalers, without demolishing any of it. Local architect Rob Pfaffmann also is putting together a plan to save the building.

Peter Margittai, president of Preservation Pittsburgh, which sought the designation, called council's preliminary vote "disappointing." He noted the city Historic Review Commission had recommended the designation for the 1,533-foot-long structure.

On Wednesday, Councilwoman Deb Gross, whose district includes the terminal, urged her colleagues to vote for the designation, saying the structure "really makes the Strip District the Strip District." But Councilman Corey O'Connor said he saw no need for the designation since the URA, now under Mr. Peduto's control, could reapply for historic status if there's a need for it.

Voting no were Mr. O'Connor, Ricky Burgess, Theresa Kail-Smith and R. Daniel Lavelle. Ms. Gross, Natalia Rudiak and Bruce Kraus were in favor. Darlene Harris and Dan Gilman abstained.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. First Published January 15, 2014 12:35 PM

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