Mayor gets deadline to preserve terminal

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has six months to try to save the Strip District's produce terminal.

The city will use the time to work with other developers in an effort to preserve the landmark under a deal reached Friday between the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Buncher Co.

With the six-month "standstill," Mr. Peduto will be able to evaluate "a third option" that keeps the terminal intact while providing Buncher with access to the surrounding land for its proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing residential and office development, said Kevin Acklin, the mayor's chief of staff and URA board chairman.

"We have an agreement in place now with Buncher that, in effect, they'll sit on the sidelines for six months," Mr. Acklin said.

Friday's agreement was necessary to allow the city to negotiate with other parties about the 1,533-foot-long structure. Buncher has an option to purchase the terminal from the URA for $1.8 million, a deal that had prevented the city from talking to other developers, Mr. Acklin said.

Buncher is proposing to demolish the western third of the building to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River. But Mr. Peduto has made it clear that he prefers to keep the structure intact.

Mr. Acklin said the new agreement gives the city a "window of time" to evaluate other developers and their proposals for the terminal. Mr. Peduto has said that four developers -- one from Texas, one from Ohio, and two from Pennsylvania -- have expressed interest in redeveloping the building.

One developer that expressed interest publicly is the Ferchill Group of Cleveland, which converted the old Heinz food processing plant on the North Side into the Heinz Lofts apartments. Local architect Rob Pfaffmann also is leading a team interested in turning the terminal into a 21st-century incubator for the food economy and unique retail shops.

Mr. Acklin said he has been "very pleased" with what he has heard so far from several developers. Mr. Peduto has said developers are considering possible reuses that include housing, wholesale, farming, and arts and culture.

Although Buncher planned to demolish a third of the building, it also intended to sink more than $20 million into the rest of it to rehab it into offices and restaurants. It has said the building is in need of major repairs.

"We have an agreement with the URA that allows them time to evaluate other options," Buncher president and CEO Tom Balestrieri said. He declined further comment.

With the agreement in place, the city intends to work with Fourth Economy Consulting to meet with developers and other stakeholders in the Strip to put together a vision for the terminal that will be presented to the community for discussion.

Mr. Peduto envisions a redevelopment that extends beyond the terminal and stretches from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and includes Smallman Street. He also would like to restore the Belgian block on Smallman and add decorative lighting and traffic signals to make the area safer for pedestrians.

"With our collaborators, we'll put forth a vision that builds on the history of Pittsburgh and doesn't tear it down," he said in a statement. The development, he believes, could rival Pike Place Market in Seattle, Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, and Faneuil Hall in Boston.

Mr. Acklin said the agreement with Buncher grew out the weekly meetings the mayor's office has been having with the developer. If the city goes with another developer, Buncher will be repaid for what it has spent in planning its proposed redevelopment, he said.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. First Published February 28, 2014 2:09 PM

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