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Planning Commission OKs historic status for Produce Terminal in Strip District

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 5:03 p.m.
Tribune-Review
More than half a year after Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration put the brakes on a project to transform the Strip District’s landmark Produce Terminal and sought a different developer, it remains unclear who will tackle the job.

Pittsburgh Planning Commission members chastised a preservation group on Tuesday for waiting until May to seek historic designation for the Produce Terminal in the Strip District.

Then commissioners gave the preservationists what they wanted, voting 7-1 to recommend the designation to City Council in a move that puts a proposed $400 million development on hold.

“It is so bothersome to me that (preservationists) come in and back-door the developer. It's unfair,” said commission Chairwoman Wrenna Watson, who cast the dissenting vote.

Preservation Pittsburgh, a nonprofit, and Lawrenceville architect Sarah Kroloff filed paperwork to nominate the Produce Terminal for historic status.

Watson said they used the nomination as “a political tool” to halt a development project that has been discussed publicly for more than three years.

Preservation Pittsburgh President Peter Margittai said residents expressed concern about preserving the building at public meetings dating to at least December 2011.

Margittai described the historic nomination as the “nuclear option,” a last resort used when it became apparent that a portion of the building might be torn down.

The Strip District-based Buncher Co. has a $1.8 million option on the quarter-mile-long building. The company wants to demolish a third of the building so it can extend 17th Street from Smallman Street to the edge of the Allegheny River, where it plans housing, office and retail development between 11th and 21st streets. Preservation Pittsburgh and Kroloff nominated the building for historic status after Buncher applied for a demolition permit.

“We're obviously disappointed that the Planning Commission took the position that it did, but it is what it is,” said Buncher President and CEO Tom Balestrieri.

City Council has to vote on whether to grant historic status by the end of February, officials said.

“Until then, the project is on hold,” Balestrieri said.

Several commissioners who voted in favor of the designation took exception to the nomination.

“What happened to Buncher is totally unfair, and I think they've done an excellent job of designing this project, but that's not the issue before us today,” said Commissioner Kirk Burkley, noting the vote should be based on whether the Produce Terminal meets any of 10 criteria used to define historic buildings.

“It meets the criteria. To not uphold the law would be unfair,” Burkley said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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