Court fight over Produce Terminal building begins
By Jeremy Boren
Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 6:00 p.m.
Rail lines that carried 100-ton freight-car loads of potatoes from Idaho to the doorstep of the Strip District's trademark Produce Terminal disappeared decades ago.
With them vanished Allegheny Valley Railroad's right to control valuable land next to the terminal along the Allegheny River, lawyers for the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority told an Allegheny County judge Thursday during the opening of an expected two-day trial. The land in question runs between 16th and 21st streets.
The Oakmont-based railroad sued the URA in September to stop it from selling the Produce Terminal to The Buncher Co., the largest private development firm in the Strip District. Buncher wants to demolish about one-third of the 80-year-old building and renovate the rest to market it to retailers as part of a larger development.
The railroad's case hinges on the interpretation of a single paragraph in a 1981 agreement the URA struck to buy the building from Conrail. It says the URA must use its “best efforts” to provide retail space to the wholesale produce industry and “rail-oriented use” in the Produce Terminal.
“Conrail pulled its cars right up to the door and unloaded into the building,” said James McLean, an attorney representing the URA. “But it formally abandoned its Smallman rail line.”
That decision pre-dates Allegheny Valley Railroad's acquisition of some Conrail lines in 1995.
Jonathan Kamin, an attorney representing the railroad, told Common Pleas Judge Robert Colville that city development officials negotiated the agreement that contains the clause and even sought to enforce it when Conrail moved to shut down service.
“The city has consistently taken a position to protect the covenant,” Kamin said, adding that the URA has worked to relocate produce wholesalers who were Allegheny customers.
“‘Best efforts' is a very nebulous standard in the law,” said John Murray, chancellor of Duquesne University Law School and an acclaimed contract law expert who is not involved in the case. “It does not mean that you have to achieve a certain goal. It just means that you have to use your most reasonable, diligent pursuit of that goal.”
Murray said if the URA can show it is no longer feasible to provide access to railroads and wholesalers because tracks were removed and produce sellers relocated, the authority could win.
The outcome of the court battle could shape Buncher's plans to create a mixed development on a 55-acre stretch. The property runs from the Veteran's Bridge to 21st Street. Buncher officials have said owning the Produce Terminal is essential to making its plan work.
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’ leads evaporate in loss to Sharks
- Keisel might be at end of Steelers career
- Judge to Cook Township drug suspect: Get new friends
- McKeesport middle school student struck by dump truck dies in hospital
- Sharks praise ex-teammate, newest Penguins player Goc
- Neighbor in East Liberty sisters’ slayings may be part of murder-for-hire case
- New Pirates pitcher Eppley brings special delivery to team’s staff
- Westmoreland man’s walk in Niagara Falls State Park wasn’t allowed, police say
- License transfer paves way for new restaurant in McKeesport
- Changes proposed to legislation aimed at reducing Pittsburgh blight
- Martin would consider extending stay with Pirates