Council again delays produce terminal vote

Mayor-elect Peduto wants more time to work with development team

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Pittsburgh City Council held off voting, again, on the proposed historic designation of the Smallman Street produce terminal in the Strip District.

District 8 Councilwoman Deborah Gross, a preservation supporter who represents the Strip, asked for the delay Monday in deeming the Pennsylvania Fruit Auction and Sales Building historic to allow incoming Mayor Bill Peduto's administration to work further next month with developers at the Buncher Co.

The developers oppose the designation, saying it would hamper its efforts to demolish a third of the facility, rehabilitate the rest, and improve access to their $450 million redevelopment of riverfront land behind the terminal.

Mr. Peduto and his incoming chief of staff, Kevin Acklin, also urged council to delay the vote, saying they needed a few more weeks to work with Buncher, preservationists and neighbors to reach compromise on the building's future. Mr. Peduto's team is talking with outside developers who may have other plans for re-use of the terminal.

Mr. Peduto said he supports Buncher's redevelopment, but also wants full community input and an adaptation of the building. A delay in the vote "would allow things to happen while at the same time be respectful of the process," the mayor-elect said.

Others -- including councilmen Daniel Lavelle and Corey O'Connor -- urged the body to move forward with a vote opposing the historic tag, saying the final sale of the terminal by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority to Buncher would have to come back to council for a later vote anyway.

Council had already delayed voting on the historic tag twice before, and Ms. Gross said under law the body had until Feb. 14 to make a decision.

Buncher CEO Tom Balestrieri urged council to move forward and vote down the designation. He said delaying the decision again would allow council to "keep kicking that can down the road" and indefinitely hold up the site's redevelopment. He said his company would have to work with the Peduto administration next year -- and the URA, which Mr. Acklin will chair -- whether it is deemed historic or not.

Mr. Balestrieri repeated that making the building historic could force Buncher to move on to the riverfront site without making any improvements to the adjacent old building. "I'm happy to step aside. I never wanted to own the produce terminal," he said, adding that historic designation would be a burden to his or any other development company. "We'll try it. But I have no expectation that we can make it work," he said.

After more than an hour of sometimes bitter debate, council approved the delay with affirmative votes from Ms. Gross, Mr. Peduto, Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus and Natalia Rudiak. While she supported the delay Mrs. Harris said she did not want a decision held off indefinitely. Council meets again Monday for its last 2013 session before reconvening Jan. 6.

Tim McNulty: or 412-263-1581.

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