Chicago firm has its eye on Strip District produce terminal

A Chicago developer that helped convert a former Strip District cork factory into one of Pittsburgh's premier apartment complexes has its eye on another neighborhood landmark -- the produce terminal.

McCaffery Interests is proposing to convert the 1,533-foot-long warehouse, which served for decades as the hub for produce wholesalers, into residential space, perhaps to include lofts designed for both work and play.

But Dan McCaffery, the company's chairman and CEO, stressed his main goal is to preserve as much of the terminal as possible while connecting bustling Penn Avenue and its eclectic mix of retailers and restaurants to the Allegheny River.

"We don't fight to tear down and completely obliterate the historic character of buildings," he said. "We try to find a way to make them more usable again."

McCaffery was one of three groups to submit proposals to the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority last month to redevelop the nearly vacant and deteriorating building. The others were Rubino Partners, a local team led by Mike Rubino, a third-generation Strip businessman; and the Ferchill Group of Cleveland.

Like McCaffery, Ferchill also envisions housing in the terminal -- 192 one-bedroom apartments on the north and south sides of the building and 17 two-bedroom units at the far east end. It is planning a produce market at the other end.

Mr. McCaffery was not as detailed in relating his firm's plans.

While he said the company is proposing residential and perhaps some live-work lofts at the site, he could not provide an exact number of units, saying that depended, in part, on how much space each tenant wanted.

"It's going to be organic," he said.

The lofts offer tenants a chance to utilize part of the space for professional offices while retaining the rest for their personal residence. Mr. McCaffery saw it as a good fit for architects, doctors or others who want to work and live in the Strip.

Like the other two developers, McCaffery is not proposing to demolish any part of the terminal.

Instead it intends to create portals through the structure to match the street grid and to provide access to the river as well as to the Buncher Co.'s proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing office and residential development to be built around it.

Under the plan, the terminal's roof would remain intact.

Mr. McCaffery said it was important not to isolate the Buncher development from the rest of the Strip. He added his plan would allow the Strip to benefit from the waterfront and vice versa.

"I think it's symbiotic. I don't think it's one over the other," he said. "I think you can marry the new with the old much better if there isn't that entire 1,600-foot barrier."

McCaffery is planning to add amenities like coffee shops or galleries near the portals to create transitions between the Buncher development and the more traditional parts of the Strip.

While Mr. McCaffery did not have a cost estimate for the entire redevelopment, he said the intent is for it to be privately funded.

The URA requested proposals from developers after Buncher gave Mayor Bill Peduto six months to talk to others about redeveloping the terminal. Buncher, which now manages the property, has an option to buy it from the URA for $1.8 million.

However, it ran into opposition when it proposed demolishing 529 feet of the terminal's west end to extend 17th Street to the river. Mr. Peduto has said his goal is to keep the terminal intact.

McCaffery is best known locally as being part of the team that converted a factory that produced cork for everything from life jackets to bottles of Heinz ketchup into the 297-unit Cork Factory apartment building. The team later added the 96-unit Loft 24, which opened in 2012. The properties are now in the process of being sold to GMH Capital Partners of Newtown Square near Philadelphia.

Mr. McCaffery said the same architect that worked on the Cork Factory project is involved in the produce terminal redevelopment.

Rubino Partners has yet to release details of its proposal, but a spokeswoman has said that it will reflect the team's "knowledge of the Strip and builds on the strength of the neighborhood." In the past, the plan has been described as converting the terminal into a 21st-century incubator for the food economy and unique shops.

The URA and Fourth Economy Consulting are reviewing the three proposals. Fourth Economy is being paid $35,000 by the URA to help evaluate the plans.

MORE about the three proposals for Strip District produce terminal under review

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262.

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