If the Golden Triangle is the heart of Pittsburgh, the Strip District is the stomach. That sounds kind of gross, but when you think about the sheer volume of food that originates here, both retail and wholesale, the Strip District is still feeding the metro area of Pittsburgh.
Aside from St. Stanislaus Church at the intersection of Smallman and 21st, the Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction Building (also known as the Produce Terminal) is the next most iconic building in the Strip. The approximately 1,500 foot long warehouse, built in 1926, is not an officially-designated historical landmark, but it is definitely a local landmark.
That’s why there was some real trepidation when Buncher Company, czars of warehouses and utilitarian office parks, expressed re-development plans for the warehouse that would have included demolishing nearly one-third of it. Part of the reason is that Buncher wanted to develop the 12 acres of land that they owned between the Produce Terminal and Allegheny River. Viewing it as an impediment, instead of a design feature, Buncher intended to chop a portion out and extend 18th Street through the terminal to their property.
From this 2006 article on the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation‘s site, this was Buncher’s general counsel, Joseph Jackovic’s quote:
?It ?s an issue we think the city ought to address because it is a barrier to development, ? Jackovic said. ?They always talk about connecting the neighborhoods to the riverfront ? that ?s one of the barriers to connecting them. ?
Under the weak leadership of then-Mayor Ravenstahl, this viewpoint on a key structure to Pittsburgh’s history was viewed in this manner. In 2013, I was told by a member of then-Councilman/now-Mayor Bill Peduto’s staff that the Buncher proposal would be squashed when he was elected. Sure enough, Buncher’s proposal has been pushed aside in favor of two competing firms being forced to work together.
Originally, Rubino Partners and McCaffery Interests were competing against each other for the one idea that would prevail. But whether the Mayor and/or Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) like elements of both idea, the decision was made that the two entities had to blend together and form a unified concept. The two proposals are dramatically different.
The Pittsburgh-based Rubino Partners is a more populist idea of a grand market, in the vein of the outstanding West Side Market of Cleveland, with a food truck row occupying the existing loading docks, and space for farmers to create a permanent farmer’s market.
Chicago-based McCaffery Interests, the developers behind the successful Cork Factory re-development in the Strip, are going with a pure residential and office/retail space proposal. They are envisioning 118 residential units, including 14 work-lofts for the artist-types, 20,000 square feet of office space, and 35,000 square feet of retail space.
I can see now why both firms are being forced to move forward together. Each proposal has definite merits and drawbacks. I think the Rubino proposal, with a food truck row, is the entre-vous the City is looking to create to “legalize” food trucks in downtown Pittsburgh. This would create a semi-permanent food truck park in one centralized location. It would also upgrade the Pittsburgh Public Market that existed in the building from 2010 to 2013, before moving to another spot in the Strip in the 2400 block of Penn Avenue. It was a lame attempt at re-creating other cities’ indoor markets. Maybe now it would have some money behind it.
I can also see that the residential units in the McCaffery proposal would be appealing to the City, as well. Downtown housing is hot right now, especially for the young Millennial generation that doesn’t want to own a car. Being able to walk to a downtown job, with all the amenities that the Strip already offers, would make this a popular destination. I can’t see the need for retail space in this building, especially with vacant storefronts along Smallman Street already.
Earlier in December, the two companies received a 90-day extension to continue negotiations with each other, in an attempt to find a solution that would monetarily benefit both parties. This is a project that Mayor Peduto is championing, so I imagine that by March, a solution will be reached.
Just think…were it not for a Mayor vacationing at Seven Springs while Pittsburgh was snowed under, or a police corruption scandal, or abuse of City property for personal use, or being generally inept, then-Mayor Ravenstahl would have probably cruised to re-election. Now that there is a Mayor with some degree of vision and a concept of urban planning, an iconic Pittsburgh structure will potentially be re-purposed and have new life breathed into it for another 90 years, hopefully.