Third plan for terminal in Strip in the works

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has assembled a group to craft a plan to redevelop the produce terminal, one that would keep the Strip District landmark intact.

The group, headed by North Side-based Fourth Economy Consulting and Design Center Pittsburgh, will work with other developers to come up with a "third option" for the building, one of the defining pieces of architecture in the Strip.

Mr. Peduto has been championing a third way to redevelop the terminal that would allow for the riverfront access that the Buncher Co. desires without demolishing part of the building.

Buncher, which has an option to buy the terminal from the city Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million, is seeking to raze the western third of the 1,533-foot-long structure to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its $450 million Riverfront Landing residential and office development.

Kevin Acklin, Mr. Peduto's chief of staff, said Monday the group is being asked to determine whether a "third option" is viable and to work with developers to fashion a plan that would serve as the basis for conversation.

"The talk out there is that there is no viable option to keep this building intact. I charged this group to see if that's true. Our suspicion is that we can make it work," he said.

Buncher has been among those that have questioned the feasibility of proposed alternatives, such as portals through the building, saying its studies have found them to be impractical or too costly.

Company officials have argued that the terminal is decaying, obsolete and in need of major repairs and that their plan offers the best chance to preserve it. They are proposing to sink more than $20 million into the structure to rehabilitate it for offices and restaurants.

Mr. Acklin said Mr. Peduto envisions a redevelopment akin to Pike Place Market in Seattle or Faneuil Hall in Boston. The mayor also would like to see Smallman Street in front of the terminal included in any revitalization plan and perhaps converted into a piazza.

While Buncher is proposing to tear down a third of the building to create a path to the river and the rest of its development, Mr. Peduto favors portals through the structure to provide access.

Portals would create sections within the building that could allow multiple developers to re-purpose each of those spaces as part of one overall redevelopment, Mr. Acklin said.

He added the goal is to use portals in a way that would not disrupt the building's defining feature -- its continuous length. Mr. Acklin also stressed that any alternative plan must be realistic.

"I've been convinced that it's something that can be accomplished. In deference to Buncher and the community, we're not going to present a pie-in-the-sky proposal. It's going to be well vetted with funding sources," he said.

As the group considers alternatives and puts together its own recommendations for the property, it will provide opportunities for the public to comment and make suggestions, he noted.

Mr. Peduto and Mr. Acklin have been meeting with Buncher to discuss the terminal and possible options and will continue to do so. The developer also will provide information to the working group. It has agreed to put its plans on hold while alternatives are explored.

"I think we have an opportunity to be collaborative and to accomplish what they want to do on their project and also accommodate what the mayor wants to see happen in the overall development," Mr. Acklin said.

Buncher officials could not be reached for comment Monday. On Friday, after meeting with Mr. Acklin, Michael Kutzer, Buncher's vice president of real estate, said the two sides had made progress.

Once the working group presents its recommendations, Buncher will have to decide whether it wants to participate in a joint venture on a new redevelopment for the terminal, stick with its own plan, or relinquish its option on the property and allow someone else to redevelop it, Mr. Acklin said.

City council will take a final vote today on whether to make the terminal a city historic structure. In a preliminary vote last week, council failed to muster the six votes needed for the designation.

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


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