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Strip District redevelopment planned

By Dan Hill
On March 7, 2012

  • Pittsburgh Public Market, part of the Strip District’s Produce Terminal, will be demolished if the proposed Strip District redevelopment project goes through as planned. Pat Thompson / The Duquesne Duke

A proposed city-backed renovation of the Strip District has caused some concern among tenants in the Strip's Produce Terminal.

The Produce Terminal, an area where wholesale businesses sell goods, is an located on Mulberry Street. The proposed renovation would demolish the section of the Produce Terminal between 16th and 17th Streets and open a 55-acre strip of land running from 11th to 21st Streets for the construction of offices and apartments.

According to Cindy Cassell, Economic Development Manager of Neighbors in the Strip, the businesses located in the demolished building may be relocated within the new building, and the Public Market would be expanded.

The project would be carried out by developer Thomas Balestrieri, CEO of The Buncher Company, a Pittsburgh real estate company, sometime after December 2012. Neither Balestrieri nor any representatives of The Buncher Company could be reached for comment.

Small business owners in the Strip are worried that the partial demolition might damage the Produce Terminal's image and charm.

"How do you change the Terminal building without changing the essence of the Strip?" said Sam Patti, owner of La Prima Expresso Roastary, which has been located in the Terminal on Smallman Street for 24 years. "Staying in the Strip is central to everything. It's where all the restaurants come to do everything."

Many local businesses buy produce and other goods wholesale at the Produce Terminal and some, including Becky Rodgers, executive director of the Group Neighbors in the Strip, think an absence of those wholesale chains could hurt the District.

"The Strip is a wholesale neighborhood. They make most of their money from wholesale. Only 25 to 30 percent is made from retail," Rodgers said. "The Strip is a distribution center. If you take away some of those distributors, it could negatively impact the Strip."

Patti is not yet certain if he will be one of the businesses moved as a result of the demolition, but he said he wants to stay where he is.

La Prima has another location on Penn Avenue that they use as a retail outlet, but it only accounts for 50 percent of its profits, with its wholesale store in the strip accounting for the other half.

"That is an important mix for us," Patti said. "All I can say is that we want to stay here, and we don't know what's going on yet."

Although some are worried about what the redevelopment could do to the image of The Strip, others think it will positively affect the area. Despite her reservations, Rodgers said she could also envision the renovation going well.

"I think it's great we have a company like the Buncher Company doing the redevelopment, because they are a very conservative developer," Rodgers said. "They build and wait to see how it works out before they continue to build more."

Urban Redevelopment Authority, which works with city neighborhoods to redevelop and restore property and buildings throughout Pittsburgh, is working in coordination with the Produce Terminal's small business owners to help them throughout the renovation. Its board of directors voted on Feb. 9 to approve the start of construction. 

"We are working with them in that area that are going to be moved to figure out what the best course for them as business people is," said URA's Special Projects Manager Paul Svoboda.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle, who is on the URA's board, gave the project a time frame of five to 10 years. He said he is optimistic for the results of the redevelopment.

"I think we have a tremendous opportunity before us to develop some of the most valuable land in the city," Lavelle said. "It has been underutilized for decades."

Svoboda said the process has not been easy since each business currently in the area has unique needs.

"They are all different and have different needs and demands for access to truck traffic and rail traffic," Svoboda said. "At this point, we haven't found a solution for each and every one of them yet."

Despite these hurdles, Svoboda said he is optimistic about the redevelopment.

"There's not even a drain in the building. There's not a great electrical system either. There's kind of a jerry-rigged infrastructure in the building," he said. "We've all looked each other square in the eye and realized that all the tenants could not operate as efficiently as they could in more modern facilities."

Svoboda plans to maintain the Strip's charm during the redevelopment.

"We are cognizant and respectful of that [the charm of the Strip]," Svoboda said. "We do not want to do anything that will harm that."

Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to clarify the relocation of the Public Market businesses within the newly constructed building and to clarify Thomas Balestrieri's position at The Buncher Company.

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