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Strip District makeover to proceed, developer says

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

The Buncher Co. will proceed with a $400 million development in the Strip District regardless of whether it gets permission to tear down the landmark Produce Terminal, a company official said Thursday.

Pittsburgh's Historic Review Commission this week gave preliminary approval for nomination of the terminal — a key element in the Buncher project — as a historic structure. Historic designation could prevent Buncher from demolishing about 30 percent of the building and providing public access to the Allegheny River, Buncher President and CEO Thomas J. Balestrieri said.

But it won't stop Buncher from developing about 63 acres it owns along the river behind the building.

“Whether there's a Produce Terminal or not, there will be a road from 11th Street to 21st Street, and there will be developable parcels along the riverfront,” Balestrieri said. “When there's an opportunity there, whether it's an office building, or a residential building, or a hotel, or whatever the opportunity may be, we'll move ahead with it.

“We're in the development business.”

The company plans a mix of town homes, offices and shops called Riverfront Landing on vacant property that once was a rail yard and is used for parking. It has an option to buy the Produce Terminal from the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority for $1.8 million and wanted to tear down about one-third of the terminal's western end.

Balestrieri said demolition would permit extension of 17th Street to the river and a public plaza on the riverfront. The company would renovate the remaining space in a historically accurate way, he said.

Work on the $3.5 million road called Waterfront Place is ongoing. Balestrieri said the company anticipated Wednesday's Historic Review Commission decision and still hopes to carry out its plan for the terminal.

“We expect to go through the process, and we expect, at the end of the day, that we will be permitted to go forward with the demolition,” he said. “In the meantime, we're building the road and we'll continue to do what we need to do on the riverfront — and we'll continue to park cars.”

Preservation Pittsburgh, which prepared the nomination for historic status, believes that razing any portion of the quarter-mile-long terminal would be a big loss for the city, said Michael Shealey, a board member.

“We believe that its value as an architectural structure is relative to that length,” he said.

Sarah Quinn, Pittsburgh's historic preservation planner, said the commission's vote means the terminal has potential for historic designation. The commission did the same for such buildings as the Civic Arena but subsequently voted against historic recommendation. Crews razed the Civic Arena in 2012.

The Historic Review and city Planning commissions are scheduled to offer recommendations to City Council, which will decide the issue, in September, Quinn said.

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

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