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City Council again delays vote on historic status for Produce Terminal

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Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 2:39 p.m.
 

The Buncher Company's top executive on Monday told Pittsburgh City Council members the company intends to push ahead with a $400 million development in the Strip District with or without the landmark Produce Terminal.

But President and CEO Thomas J. Balestrieri warned the development would take longer to complete if the terminal is designated as a historic building and left in limbo with no guarantee of being renovated.

A divided Pittsburgh City Council postponed for the third time a vote on whether to grant historic building status until Mayor-elect Bill Peduto takes office in January.

Buncher has a $1.8 million option to buy the building from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and has promised to renovate it “in a historically sensitive way” at an estimated cost of $25 million. The plan comes with a caveat that the company be allowed to demolish about one-third of the 1,500 foot building to access its adjacent property.

Preservationists sought the historic designation to prevent demolition.

“I think what I'm afraid of is you're kicking this thing down the road, and then come Feb. 14, it will be deemed historic, and we'll be burdened with it,” Balestrieri said. “I have no expectations that we'll be able to make the economics work.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross, who represents the Strip District, asked to postpone the vote again on Monday.

She said she preferred to give the incoming Peduto administration time to look for ways to save the building and accommodate Buncher.

“In only two weeks' time, we will have new leadership at the city's legal (department) and new leadership at the Urban Redevelopment Authority and a new mayoral administration,” she said. “There is much, I believe, to be accomplished by having open conversation with a new set of leadership.”

Historic designation would add restrictions for how the building can be changed and require city officials to review proposed exterior alterations.

Buncher previously indicated that it might “walk away” from the development if the council grants historic status, but Balestrieri backed off that threat. He said the company is building a road that will run through the property and intends to move forward.

“Kick it down the road and vote on it whenever you want to,” he told council members. “In the meantime, we'll keep on sending our rain checks to the URA. Merry Christmas.”

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, who supports the historic designation, has said three developers are interested in adapting the building for a contemporary use. Buncher, so far, is the only company that has offered plans with financing to complete them.

Council split on the delay with council members Corey O'Connor, Theresa Kail-Smith, Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess urging members to vote. They pointed out that council has debated the project for more than a year. The measure to postpone passed 5-4.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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