Trio of plans outlined for Strip District produce terminal building
August 7, 2014 12:00 AM
The produce terminal on Smallman Street in the Strip District.
By Mark Belko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three groups cast their visions for the Strip District’s iconic produce terminal Wednesday evening, with two pitching plans to convert the one-time fruit and vegetable hub into housing and the other proposing to turn it into a giant marketplace.
The Ferchill Group of Cleveland, Chicago-based McCaffery Interests, and Rubino Partners, a local group, made their cases during a public meeting, sponsored by the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, at the Heinz History Center.
All three offered plans (explore the presentation below) that would keep the 1,533-foot-long landmark intact, adding portals to create access to the Allegheny River from Smallman Street. That’s in contrast to a proposal by the Buncher Co. to raze the western third of the building to extend 17th Street to the river.
Unhappy with that plan, Mayor Bill Peduto negotiated with Buncher, which holds the option to buy the property from the URA for $1.8 million, to seek alternatives. Wednesday was the first chance for the public to get a look at those proposals.
Under Ferchill’s $35.6 million plan, the terminal would be converted into 192 one-bedroom apartments and 17 two-bedroom units. In keeping with the building’s past, a 10,850-square-foot produce market would be built at one end. As an alternative, Ferchill is proposing additional retail space on each side of two portals through the building.
McCaffery, working with Chuck Hammel, Pitt-Ohio Express president, also is proposing residences — 104 apartments and 14 live-work units — plus 35,000 square feet of retail space and 20,000 square feet of office space at a cost of $46.4 million.
“It’s going to be dynamic,” CEO Dan McCaffery said.
Rubino offered the only plan without any housing. It is proposing to create a marketplace that would feature a farmers and food truck row on the docks on the terminal’s riverside. Inside, there would be a mix of merchants, from Amish vendors to those who specialize in closeout merchandise. The plan would cost $19.4 million.
All three ventures have the potential to pay off for the city. Fourth Economy Consulting, which is working with the URA to analyze the plans, estimated that McCaffery’s proposal would generate $14.3 million in net tax revenue over 10 years, Ferchill’s $12 million, and Rubino’s $7.6 million.
The Rubino plan produces the least revenue in part because it would be leasing the building from the URA instead of buying it. As a result there would be no property tax revenue. The other two intend to buy the building.
Rich Overmoyer, CEO of Fourth Economy, said all three plans have pros and cons. On the plus side, Rubino’s proposal, for example, keeps with the legacy of the terminal, a wholesale produce hub for decades, and would require the least renovation. Drawbacks include leasing the building and a $2 million gap in the financing.
Among the Ferchill pros are the developer’s proven track record — it developed Heinz Lofts on the North Side — returning the property to the tax rolls, and little in the way of public help. Among the cons was a lack of defined sustainability features and potential parking issues.
For McCaffery, pros included significant equity in the project and a track record in doing historic redevelopment, including conversion of a former cork factory into a 297-unit upscale Cork Factory apartment complex in the Strip a few blocks from the terminal. Among potential drawbacks were the lack of sustainability plans and financing 20 percent of the project with historic tax credits, which Fourth Economy saw as difficult to obtain given the proposed portals through the building.
Fourth Economy will take the feedback it gets from the public and prepare a recommendation for the URA by early next week. The URA intends to make a selection at its meeting next Thursday.
During a 45-minute public comment period, several people questioned the proposals to convert the building largely to residential use, particularly given the character of the Strip and other housing in the works, including that proposed by Buncher on the riverfront.
Renee Abrams of Highland Park said she was concerned that the emphasis was too much on revenue to the city versus “what really complements this gem of a neighborhood.
“What we have cannot be replicated anywhere in this country. And my concern is that we will be destroying the fabric of that neighborhood if we go with apartment buildings,” she said.
The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation spoke against all three of the plans. Project Manager Karamagi Rujumba argued that the portals would disrupt the building’s length, one of its defining characteristics. He also said all three plans rely heavily on historic tax credits, which he maintained was “highly speculative at best.”
PHLF, he added, favored the Buncher plan, which includes a $22 million renovation that would convert the old warehouse to office and retail uses.
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