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Produce Terminal options explored in Strip District riverfront project

| Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 11:57 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The landmark Produce Terminal in the Strip District on Tuesday, June 10, 2012.

A Jan. 1 ownership change at one of Western Pennsylvania's leading development companies won't change the way it does business or threaten projects such as a $400 million riverfront development in Pittsburgh, its top executive said on Wednesday.

Pittsburgh's Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto is reaching out to Buncher Co.'s soon-to-be majority owners about his ideas for the Strip District riverfront project.

“We're just jumping into this, and we've asked them to give us the time to be able to look” at alternative plans for the Produce Terminal, said Peduto, 48, of Point Breeze during a meeting with Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

Peduto opposes Buncher's controversial plan to demolish one-third of the terminal.

Buncher President and CEO Tom Balestrieri said the ownership change will have little impact on the project or the company's day-to-day operations. Buncher has a $1.8 million option to buy the terminal from Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

“We believe we have a plan that works, and we're in a position where we're ready to act on it,” Balestrieri said. “The change will not impact the business practices and policies here.”

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are poised to assume a combined 80 percent ownership stake in Buncher on Jan. 1, per the wishes of late owner Jack G. Buncher. He died in 2001.

Each group would have a 16 percent share, up from 9 percent each. None of the organizations commented on the proposed Strip District project or any conversations with Peduto.

As shareholders, the five groups will be beneficiaries of dividends the company generates. They will elect a board of directors, which in turn will elect officers to run the company's day-to-day operations. At a recent shareholders meeting, the board and officers were re-elected, Balestrieri said.

Peduto has told Balestrieri and leaders of the nonprofits that he wants to see the existing quarter-mile-long Produce Terminal redeveloped as a food distribution center for all of Western Pennsylvania. He said he has two potential developers interested in the project, but he declined to identify them.

Balestrieri wants to lop off part of the Produce Terminal so 17th Street can extend from Smallman Street to the edge of the Allegheny River, where his company plans housing, office and retail development between 11th and 21st streets.

Peduto's plan would create several “pass-throughs” to provide vehicle and pedestrian access through the terminal.

A preservation group and an architect nominated the Produce Terminal for a historic designation in a move that put the project on hold. The city's Planning Commission will consider the nomination next week, and City Council must decide on it by mid-February.

Buncher officials said last week when the city's Historic Review Commission endorsed the terminal's historic designation that a delay could jeopardize the project.

“I don't know that the soon-to-be owners of the company feel that either they get to tear down one-third of the building or they are not developing anything. I don't think that represents their feelings,” Peduto 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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