Buncher puts plans on hold for Strip District produce terminal

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The Buncher Company has agreed to put its plans for redeveloping the venerable produce terminal in the Strip District on hold while alternatives are explored, Mayor Bill Peduto said today.

After meeting with Buncher officials during his first full day in office, Mr. Peduto said he and the company will be meeting weekly to consider options for the Strip landmark, once the hub for produce wholesalers.

Buncher has been battling local preservationists over plans to demolish the western one-third of the 1,533-foot-long structure in order to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing office and residential development.

At the same time, Mr. Peduto has been championing a "third way" to do the development that could involve "decoupling" the terminal from the rest of the project and finding a way to provide riverfront access without razing part of the structure.

Mr. Peduto said after his meeting today that Buncher is willing to put its plans on hold "while looking at the options."

"There's a lot of different options that are available to us in partnering with them on potential redevelopment of the terminal building and bringing in other developers as well and we will be pursuing that over the course of the next three to six months," he said.

The mayor has said that he has spoken to developers from Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania who are interested in reusing the terminal without demolishing any part of it. He said there was a "spirit of cooperation" in today's meeting on both sides.

"I really do believe at the end of the day that we have the ability to see the adaptive reuse of the terminal building, access to the site for Buncher and the potential redevelopment of their entire site and also Smallman Street itself to bring in much more development than had been proposed earlier," he said.

Tom Balestrieri, Buncher president and CEO, said after the meeting that his company and the mayor were "exploring alternatives that will satisfy everyone." He added that a "myriad of things" are being discussed in terms of options.

"We're working toward a common goal. We want something that's good for everybody," he said.

Council is still weighing a city historic designation for the terminal that would make it much more difficult for Buncher to raze part of the building. Mr. Peduto said that regardless of how the vote goes, there's still an opportunity to redevelop the site and reuse the building.

Buncher has proposed spending more than $20 million to rehab the terminal, without the section that would be demolished. It has argued that its plan is the best way to preserve the structure, which has fallen into disrepair.

The terminal, formally known as the Pennsylvania Fruit Auction and Sales Building, is owned by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Buncher has an option to purchase it for $1.8 million.

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