Pittsburgh hurrying to get proposals for development

Short deadline to submit plans for structure in Strip

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Faced with a six-month deadline, the city is moving quickly to find a developer interested in converting the Strip District's produce terminal into a "transformative public place" without tearing down part of it.

Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority officials this week issued a request for proposals -- and a tight deadline -- for the rehabilitation of the landmark. They are asking developers and other interested parties to respond by April 23.

The decision comes less than three weeks after Mayor Bill Peduto secured a six-month "window of time" from the Buncher Co. to talk to others about the possible redevelopment of the venerable but deteriorating 1,533-foot-long warehouse.

Buncher has an option with the URA to buy the building for $1.8 million, a deal that would have prevented the city from negotiating with other developers without the company's permission.

In the request for proposals, the authority has bumped up the asking price to at least $2.5 million, but does not say why. It also is asking each bidder to submit a $10,000 fee with its proposal, $7,500 of which would be reimbursed if the bid is not accepted.

URA acting executive director Robert Rubinstein declined to comment on the asking price Friday.

Mr. Peduto has said that four developers -- one from Texas, one from Ohio, and two from Pennsylvania -- have expressed an interest in redeveloping the building, which now is nearly vacant after serving for decades as a hub for produce wholesalers.

The mayor has not named the interested parties.

Nonetheless, local architect Rob Pfaffmann said that his development team, the Rubino Partners, intends to respond to the request for proposals. It is proposing to convert the terminal into a 21st century incubator for the food economy and unique retail shops.

"The Rubino team is excited to make a proposal. We think we'll be innovative and address the concerns of the community," Mr. Pfaffmann said.

Cleveland-based Ferchill Group, which converted the old Heinz food processing plant on the North Side into a luxury apartment complex, also has publicly expressed an interest in redeveloping the terminal.

But Melissa Ferchill, a representative for the company, said that she didn't know whether it would submit a proposal. She described the $10,000 fee as "pretty steep" and said she was surprised that the URA was asking at least $2.5 million for the property when Buncher would be paying $700,000 less.

She also said the time period for responding was "pretty short" given the amount of information the URA was requesting.

"Obviously, we love Pittsburgh and we've been very successful in Pittsburgh. We're generally not huge fans of public processes to be honest with you. We like to fly under the radar. This is not necessarily our favorite way to operate," she said.

Mr. Peduto is seeking to preserve and redevelop the entire terminal while providing Buncher with access to the surrounding land for its proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing residential and office development.

Buncher wants to demolish the western third of the structure, whose length is one of its defining features, to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River. It would spend more than $20 million to rehabilitate the rest of the building.

The request for proposal reflects the mayor's priorities. In it, the URA made it clear that one of the standards for evaluating plans would be the preservation of the terminal and its historical elements.

It said it sees the property as an "architectural focal point that helps bridge the marketplace and the riverfront," adding that it will "set the tone as a transformative public place for artistic and diverse commercial offerings" in the Strip.

The URA stated that it would evaluate the proposals based on a number of factors, including overall cost and the amount of public subsidy involved, if any; experience and capacity for financing; the jobs, tax revenue and tourism generated by the plan; links to the riverfront and connectivity to Smallman Street and the rest of the Strip; and compatibility with Buncher's Riverfront Landing development.

Mr. Peduto envisions the rehabilitated terminal as part of a broader redevelopment along Smallman Street that stretches from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

The URA board last week approved a $35,000 contract with Fourth Economy Consulting to evaluate alternative plans for the terminal.

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

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