As a city councilman, Jim Ferlo was arrested trying to block the demolition of the Syria Mosque in Oakland in 1991. But 22 years later, as a state senator, he won't stand in the way of a plan to demolish one third of the venerable produce terminal in the Strip District.
To the contrary, he is urging city council to reject a historic designation that could save part of the building from the wrecking ball.
In a letter to council members, Mr. Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said the city is in danger "of looking a gift horse in the mouth" if it doesn't embrace the Buncher Co.'s plan to redevelop the 1,533-foot-long landmark.
Mr. Ferlo said the developer is willing to spend upward of $20 million to restore the bulk of the building while tearing down the western third of it to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its $450 million Riverfront Landing residential and office plan.
The senator delivered his letter Monday, the same day council once again delayed a preliminary vote on whether to designate the terminal as a city historic structure, a classification that would make it more difficult for Buncher to proceed with its proposal.
Mr. Ferlo is a member of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board, which has approved a deal under which Buncher has the option to buy the terminal for $1.8 million.
"If executed carefully, with proper oversight, Buncher's plan guarantees a healthy future for the produce terminal -- an icon of the Strip. That's a real future for our history and it's within our grasp," he wrote in his letter to council.
While Buncher is proposing to raze a third of the building, it also has promised to modernize, renovate and restore the rest of it to its original late-1920s look.
Mr. Ferlo argued against proposed alternatives, saying "we can't afford to let more of the building fall apart while we wait for a faction of the preservation community's ideal to materialize."
He ridiculed a proposed alternative plan by architect Rob Pfaffmann, one that would leave the length of the building intact and create portals for cars and pedestrians, as "more than just hazy. It's hot air." Mr. Pfaffmann could not be reached for comment but has said his plan protects the building's chief historic feature -- its length. He is proposing to convert it into a 21st-century incubator for the food economy and unique retail shops.
Mayor-elect Bill Peduto has said there are developers from Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania also interested in the building.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.