Developer says it will build Strip District project without tax package
A Strip District-based developer Tuesday withdrew its request for taxpayer assistance on an ambitious plan to transform acres of parking lots along the Allegheny River into a mix of townhomes and shops called Riverfront Landing.
The Buncher Co.'s decision ends nearly seven months of uncertainty over whether Pittsburgh City Council would grant a controversial $50 million tax-financing package that city planners said would hasten construction of needed road and utility lines but some politicians decried as a blind giveaway.
“We didn't vote on a $50 million project that, it turns out, Buncher didn't want and didn't need. That's a positive,” said Councilman Patrick Dowd, who refused to introduce legislation to create the tax-increment financing district in the Strip. “That's revenue we're not going to give over now.”
But it also means city officials, primarily the Urban Redevelopment Authority, will have less influence on how Buncher proceeds with construction plans on the 63 acres it owns along the river between 11th and 21st streets, which the company said is one of the largest development-worthy tracts of its kind next to a major city's Downtown.
“We're relying on Buncher to make the investment now rather than being able to define and design and fund it in one tidy package with all of these public amenities,” said Paul Svoboda, the URA's special projects manager. “We were in the driver's seat ... and now we're in the passenger's seat. It's not ideal.”
Tom Balestrieri, president of Buncher Co., said in a statement that the company wanted to eliminate “any perceived public risk in the project” by self-financing potentially millions of dollars in street, storm water, utility line and other infrastructure improvements needed to support Buncher's initial development phase, which is bounded by 11th and 14th streets, Smallman Street and the riverbank in the Strip.
Tax-increment financing, known as TIFs, allow governments or companies to borrow money to jump-start development projects.
Ideally, the money borrowed is repaid over a 20-year term using part of the additional tax revenue — known as the increment — the new development generates. Buncher officials said they would have been willing to front the money to eliminate risk to taxpayers.
“While we applaud this arrangement as unique and creative, the negative perception of TIF programs by the community has proven too great to overcome,” Balestrieri said. “The Buncher Company has earned a highly respected reputation over the last 60 years and does not wish to participate in a financing program the community views negatively.”
Balestrieri told the Tribune-Review on Friday that he believed Dowd's opposition to the project was politically motivated. Dowd, a Highland Park Democrat, once ran against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, a fellow Democrat, and was highly critical of Ravenstahl's efforts to team with Buncher to redevelopment the Allegheny riverfront. Dowd said his opposition isn't political, he just dislikes the plan to reshape the district.
Buncher's larger plan includes public amenities such as recreational access to the river via a large piazza at the end of 17th Street, which would extend to Smallman if Buncher is able to acquire the more than 80-year-old Produce Terminal and demolish the western end of it. Buncher has an exclusive option to buy the Produce Terminal from the URA for $1.8 million.
Before that occurs, Buncher wants the URA to resolve a lawsuit the Allegheny Valley Railroad filed against it regarding the URA allowing the building to be used for retail shops rather than produce wholesalers. A trial is set for Jan. 24.
Some neighbors, merchants and politicians worry that the redevelopment plan — specifically the potential overhaul of the Produce Terminal — would ruin the historic charm of the Strip. Buncher wants to modernize the 1,478-foot-long Produce Terminal, which has no heating or cooling systems, to attract retailers in place of produce wholesalers, some of whom have already relocated out the Strip District.
Critics raised concerns about plans that show Buncher could create private, gated drives in parts of its development. Officials said Tuesday, however, that they plan to dedicate the new streets to the city for public use.
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins president: General manager, coach won’t be fired
- NFL notebook: Sanchez says Eagles signed Tebow as extra arm in camp
- Serious injury reported in Penn Hills fire
- Rossi: Crosby, Malkin didn’t sign on for this
- Penguins’ Malkin: ‘We’re not a championship team’
- Parkway West closure canceled
- 3 names added to Tuskegee Airmen Memorial in Sewickley
- Defense dominates West Virginia’s spring game
- Views of Heinz Field entice National Guard recruits
- 2 Hempfield Area students charged with sexting
- Special events planned as part of Kennywood’s 2015 season