ShareThis Page

Produce Terminal marked historic, delaying demolition plans

| Saturday, June 1, 2013, 12:20 a.m.

Buncher Co. officials said on Friday that they calculated someone would try to slow their plans to renovate the Produce Terminal Building with a historic building challenge, so they decided to take on the scrutiny as quickly as possible.

“We understood a local nomination was another step in the process that had to be addressed before exercising our option to purchase the Produce Terminal and to begin the first phase of our planned development,” said Tom Balestrieri, Buncher president and CEO.

Buncher consulted with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Strip District building's owner, and applied for a demolition permit to hasten the start of a historic building nomination process that could take three to six months.

Nonprofit Preservation Pittsburgh and a Lawrence-ville architect on Tuesday nominated the Produce Terminal as a historic building, a move that temporarily prevents changes to the building.

Buncher has an option to purchase the building from the URA for $1.8 million. Balestrieri said the company agreed not to perform demolition work until it buys the building.

Balestrieri said he's eager to move forward with plans to demolish 535 feet (roughly one-third) of the 1,500-foot-long building and begin work on a mix of apartments and shops dubbed Riverfront Landing.

That's so the company can take advantage of the hot residential market in the Strip District punctuated by conversions of former warehouses and factories into luxury living, he said. The Produce Terminal was built in 1929. An addition from 17th Street to 16th Street was built in 1931. That's the section Buncher plans to demolish.

“And we'll be restoring the original street grid,” Balestrieri said.

The demolition is necessary to extend 17th Street to the riverfront, where Buncher plans to build a plaza catering to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Other commercial real estate investors in the Strip say their plans are on pause while Buncher's project takes root.

“We have been pretty much on hold waiting to really see that this would be finalized and move forward,” said Aaron Stauber, president of Rugby Realty Co. “A lot of what you would design depends on what happens around you. You typically don't want to design in a vacuum.”

Rugby owns roughly three acres bounded by 21st, 23rd, Smallman and Railroad streets, including the Benkovitz Seafoods complex. Stauber envisions building a mixed development that includes space for a hotel and retail and residential development.

City Councilmen Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd expressed misgivings this week about Buncher's demolition application.

Peduto, who won the Democratic mayoral primary, said he hopes to meet with Buncher officials next week. Neither Peduto nor Dowd could be reached Friday to comment further.

“I think through better communication and a little bit of compromise, we can actually get the project to happen,” Peduto said in a recent interview.

Balestrieri said Buncher did not try to hide the demolition permit, which the company applied for April 29. Buncher posted signs on the exterior of the Produce Terminal notifying passers-by of its plans.

He said Buncher has worked diligently with historic preservation groups, including Preservation Pittsburgh, to design renovations to the Produce Terminal that maintain its historic character.

For instance, Buncher plans to save the engraved limestone sign on the building's western end that says, “Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction and Sales” and incorporate it into the renovations. Buncher has agreed to maintain the historically accurate trim on windows and doors and to build tree planters to give the building's surroundings a more urban — as opposed to suburban mall — feel and appearance.

“When the renovations are complete, the Produce Terminal will stand and function for at least another generation,” Balestrieri said.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.