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History center says 'no, thanks' to Wholey smiling fish sign

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 12:15 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jim Wholey, president of The Robert Wholey & Co. Inc., joined Mayor-Elect Bill Peduto to announce a campaign to relocate the Wholey smiling fish sign on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 at the store in the Strip District.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Jim Wholey, president of Robert Wholey & Co. and mayor Bill Peduto announce plans at a press conference on Saturday February 1, 2014 to move the Wholey's sign that has been on the Sampson Morris building a block away from Wholey's 17th Street store. Also unveiled was a new train with the fish sign which will join the rest of the electric model train that is in the store.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto helps to announce plans at a press conference on Saturday February 1, 2014 to move the Wholey's sign that has been on the Sampson Morris building a block away from Wholey's 17th Street store. Also unveiled was a new train with the fish sign which will join the rest of the electric model train that is in the store.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Mars High School student John Jackson carries out donations of blankets and supplies from the Mattress Factory on the North Side, Saturday, February 1, 2014.

The Senator John Heinz History Center has tossed a big fish back in the water.

The history center won a popularity vote to become the repository of the iconic Wholey's smiling fish sign in the Strip District, officials announced on Saturday.

But the center isn't interested.

“It would be confusing to have a sign of a thriving business that's located a few blocks away,” said center CEO and President Andy Masich.

No worries, said Mayor Bill Peduto and company officials. They said they would talk to representatives of other locations picked in the poll. While the history center was the top vote-getter with 301 out of more than 1,000 votes cast, Mt. Washington came in second with 260; McKees Rocks, 188; on or near water or a bridge, 131; and the Bigelow Boulevardretaining wall, 40 votes. Another 59 people voted to keep the sign where it is.

Mt. Washington didn't seem eager to reel in the sign, either.

“I think we're always looking to make Mt. Washington as attractive to as many people as possible,” said Rick Belloli, interim executive director of the Mt. Washington Community Development Corp. “I'm not certain that's one at the top of the list.”

However, McKees Rocks was biting. Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp., said on Saturday that his town wants the sign because Wholey founded the business there 100 years ago.

The 100-by-60-foot smiling fish sign is made of light bulbs and hangs on the former Federal Cold Storage Building, 1501 Penn Ave. The store is at1711 Penn Ave.

Sampson Morris Group, a Monroeville real estate firm that bought the former warehouse in 2007, plans to renovate it into apartments. The developer plans to remove the sign.

Peduto said the Robert Wholey & Co. has offered to pay to move it and to pay for the electricity wherever the sign ends up, although there still is a possibility the sign could remain on the building, though not in the same spot.

“We're successful because of all of the people,” company president Jim Wholey said. “We owe it to Pittsburgh.”

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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