Strip of questions: Buncher needs to answer council's concerns
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The Strip District is an authentic Pittsburgh character, a must-see for visitors that's just as popular with the locals, who are drawn to its fruit, vegetable, flower and ethnic markets, craft shops, restaurants and charm.
The right improvements could open up access to the Allegheny River and enliven this already bustling community on the cusp of Downtown, but the wrong plans could ruin an essential city neighborhood.
That's why city council members are right to seek more details from the Buncher Co. before giving the OK to financial help from Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Buncher wants to develop housing, retail space and offices on the massive tract of land between the river and Smallman Street, from the Veterans Bridge all the way to 21st Street.
As with many such large-scale developments, the work will happen in stages, eventually culminating in what Buncher hopes will include at least 750 housing units. Although the estimated $400 million in investments would take place over a period of 10 to 15 years, a proposed tax increment financing incentive from the URA for as much as $50 million seems to be front-loaded.
For the past six weeks, Councilman Patrick Dowd has declined to introduce legislation that would create the TIF, arguing that Buncher and the URA have not explained in sufficient detail how the money would be used. Last month, two other council members, Bruce Kraus and Bill Peduto, raised that point and other concerns in a letter to Tom Balestrieri, Buncher's president and CEO.
The councilmen are seeking assurances that the project's design will be protective of the riverfront, compliant with environmental standards and consistent with "the highest of smart urban design standards." They're also worried about preservation of a key feature of the site, the 1,478-foot-long, historic produce terminal. Buncher plans to remove one-third of the building, the western section that had been added in 1929, which is an improvement over an earlier idea of carving the five-block structure into three sections to allow for cross traffic.
If Buncher is to develop this important, massive site to its full potential, it must be willing to reassure the public well in advance that it has the Strip District's best interests at heart.
First Published July 10, 2012 12:00 am