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Category Archive: Real Estate Development

  1. Buncher Co. to Redevelop Terminal Produce Building and Build on Unused Riverfront Land

    Pop City Media

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Terminal Produce Building

    The Urban Redevelopment Authority has agreed to lease–with an option to sell–the 130,000-square-foot Fruit Auction Terminal Produce Building on Smallman Street in the Strip District. The Buncher Co. plans to turn the building into a thriving commercial space.

    To purchase the building, Buncher must commit to building 75-units of residential housing on the 55-acres of surface parking behind the Terminal Building. The firm must also promise to preserve the historic architecture.

    “The building really is at the end of its useful life. It needs anywhere from $6 to $10 million in capital improvements to bring it up to code and preserve it,” says Rob Stephany, executive director of the URA.

    According to Stephany, Buncher is about 20% of the way into their planning process, having selected the renowned historic preservation architect Albert Feloni to create a master plan for the Terminal Building. Astorino is under contract to do the master plan for the vacant surface parking along the river between the convention center and 41st Street.

    Once Buncher submits the master plans to the URA for review, the gears of construction can really start turning. Stephany says a recently conducted market analysis indicates the building would best benefit from restaurants, office, and showroom spaces on the platform, citing the Society for Contemporary Craft and The Pittsburgh Public Market as examples of forward-thinking reuse of these kinds of buildings.

    As part of the project, the URA and the City recently rezoned part of the Strip as a redevelopment area, causing concern from some neighborhood stakeholders who thought the URA might be preparing for eminent domain seizures. Stephany says that while this is certainly not the case, they didn’t do a good of a job in communicating their plans. Their intent was to make funds from investors more flexible.

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    Writer: John Farley
    Source: Rob Stephany, URA

    Photograph copyright Brian Cohen

  2. Buncher Plans Project for Strip District’s Fruit Auction Terminal Building

    Pittsburgh Business Times – by Tim Schooley

    Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010, 10:27am EST

    In a bid to spark a transformational wave of development in the Strip District, Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will vote on a plan to beat a path to the Allegheny riverfront this week through the red brick walls of the Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction Terminal Building.

    At its board meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 9, the URA is expected to vote for the city to enter into an agreement in which it would lease the six-block-long building to the Buncher Co., giving the local development company an option to buy the property. A vote of approval by the mayor-appointed board is expected to provide Buncher with the opportunity to develop the building in tandem with a 75-unit apartment project on riverfront land Buncher owns behind the building, according to URA Executive Director Rob Stephany.

    Stephany described the plan as a key move to kick-start development of approximately 55 acres Buncher owns that extend along Smallman Street and the Allegheny River from 11th to 23rd streets, a tract of largely undeveloped urban land he believed is as large as any of its kind in the country.

    “The produce terminal is kind of at the end of its useful life. It needs to be part of something bigger,” Stephany said. “My gut tells me there’s a real strong appetite by the Buncher Co. to really begin this project in earnest.”

    Calls to Buncher were not immediately returned.

    Stephany said Buncher has demonstrated its commitment to push forward with development there by hiring MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni Inc. to handle the preservation and design for the renovation of the 130,000-square-foot terminal building, a project he estimated will cost from $7 million to $10 million. The redevelopment of the terminal building, now home to number of produce wholesalers as well as the Pittsburgh Public Market, which opened a few months ago, will serve as a gateway project that should allow Buncher to being to develop the 12 to 15 acres behind it that have been largely blocked from any new plans by the building.

    The redevelopment will include building two access routes through the property, Stephany said, which he said was a requirement for making any new project behind the building viable.

    “It’s so big and so long, if you did two penetrations to it, it’s almost negligible from an impact standpoint,” Stephany said, predicting the changes will concern preservationists.

    Art Ziegler, president of Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, said his organization is supportive of the goal of redeveloping the building as well as establishing access through the building to enable development behind it, as long as that access is for pedestrians.

    “We think that the building can be a landmark for the new project. It frames and defines the project,” Ziegler said. “We do not object to a pedestrian passage and maybe two. Our only objection is to make roadways (for cars) through the building.”

    The building transaction is part of a larger collaboration between the city and Buncher. In the summer, the city reached an agreement with Buncher for a swap of properties that included the terminal building, a riverfront warehouse building in the 9th ward of Lawrenceville and the former Tippins steel property on the riverfront at the 62nd Street Bridge in Lawrenceville’s 10th ward.

    Stephany said the URA continues to work with the building’s established produce wholesalers to identify potential new locations for them. He expects the building will be redeveloped for a host of office users, restaurants, studios and other uses, noting the terminal’s four-foot elevation above Smallman Street likely won’t work for retail. The infrastructure costs for the project have not yet been determined, Stephany said.

    The URA also is working to establish a district for tax increment financing and redevelopment for the Strip District. Those proposals drew strong neighborhood criticism at a planning hearing on Dec. 7, and Stephany emphasized the TIF district and redevelopment zone are under consideration to improve the neighborhood’s eligibility for state and federal funds — and not for eminent domain.

    Stephany said there is nothing in the city’s agreement with Buncher that guarantees the new Pittsburgh Public Market will remain in the building but that both the URA and Buncher are excited about its start and see it as part of a larger redevelopment plan. The time frame for Buncher’s development is not yet set.

    “The end result of this isn’t going to be known for a while,” Stephany said.

    Chuck Hammel, an owner of the nearby Cork Factory apartment building, described the URA’s plan to turn the terminal building over to Buncher as an important step in bringing new development to the neighborhood’s riverfront. One possible hurdle, he said, will be reaching a final agreement between Buncher and the Allegheny Valley Railroad over right-of-way issues, something Hammel hopes will be resolved for the good of everyone involved.

    Hammel is working to develop a 90-unit apartment project near the almost fully occupied Cork Factory and said there is a steady influx of would-be tenants for more housing in the area.

    “We have probably 20 to 30 people who look at the Cork Factory each week,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of out-of-town people being located here.”

  3. Civic Arena May be Spared Until Summer

    By Jeremy Boren
    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Pittsburgh could be deep into summer by the time an effort to save the Civic Arena is settled.

    The Historic Review Commission is expected Jan. 5 to review a nomination to dub the 49-year-old, silver-domed arena a historic structure, a designation that would protect it from the wrecking ball.

    The commission’s public hearing on the nomination is scheduled for Feb. 2, with a final vote set for March 2. All meetings are open to the public. The final decision by Pittsburgh City Council might not occur until late August depending on how the process plays out.

    Penguins officials want the arena to be demolished to make way for a mix of retail, residential and office development on a 28-acre site.

    The city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns the arena, approved the demolition in September.

    The city Planning Commission approved demolition in a unanimous vote Nov. 22. Advocates attempting to save the arena immediately nominated it as a historic structure, which means it can’t be demolished during the review process.

    “(Our) goal has always been to find a economically viable community-based reuse plan, not to delay demolition,” said Rob Pfaffmann, an architect who heads Reuse the Igloo, a grassroots group that helped draft the nomination.

    In this case, the Planning and Historic Review commissions make only recommendations to City Council.

    The commissions’ recommendations must be made within five months of nomination. Council must hold a public hearing and take a final vote within 120 days of receiving those nominations, according to city code.

    If each group takes the maximum amount of time, council wouldn’t vote until August.

    The SEA had planned to demolish the arena in April.

  4. Heinz Students Uncover Market For Renovated Housing in Wilkinsburg

    For a project sponsored by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, a team of Heinz students established a latent market for restored homes in Wilkinsburg.  Advised by Jerry Paytaz, director of Economic Architecture at GSP Consulting, the team first conducted interviews of development experts across the nation, and two community focus groups.  Based on this feedback the team developed six profiles of potential buyers for restored homes in Wilkinsburg:  Urban Pioneer, Bo-Ho, Eco-Homesteader, Wilkinsburg Ties, Start-Up, and Retired Renovator. Next, the team developed and implemented a survey to assess likely demand and price points for fully restored homes, and two types of shell only restorations (dry-wall and stud) near Hamnett Place in Wilkinsburg. Response to the survey was high and favorable. Over 400 people responded, with 266 with ties to Wilkinsburg. Over 350 respondents indicated that they would be willing to purchase a fully renvated home in Wilkinsburg and over 250 would be willing to purchase a shell renovation with the kitchen and bathroom completed. These findings helped pave the way for new investment in Wilkinsburg, and represent a major contribution to PHLF’s ongoing efforts to address significant barriers to investment in the community. Contact Michael Sriprasert for a copy of this report.

  5. Plans for South Park Fairgrounds to be Aired Wednesday

    By Matthew Santoni
    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Allegheny County officials will show off plans for upgrading the South Park Fairgrounds and surrounding areas Wednesday, after months of meetings and public input on what to do with the aging site of the defunct county fair.

    Three plans center around improving pedestrian connections to the 80-acre site; aggressive maintenance of buildings; “greening” the grounds with vegetation and less pavement; returning nearby Catfish Run to a more natural state; and remaking the field and track next to the fairground buildings, said Jeaneen Zappa, county sustainability manager.

    Each plan will tackle those goals with differing degrees of intensity, but none of the changes is intended to be drastic.

    “There are things we can do more readily than others without making enormous changes,” Zappa said. “It’s not as though somebody took a drawing of the site on a chalkboard and erased it completely.”

    Catfish Run, which flows through a pipe beneath the fairgrounds and a culvert between the track and an access road, could be restored to natural banks with vegetation. The Nature Center, located in the middle of “an island of asphalt,” could be moved to a fairground building closer to the stream and the head of several park trails, Zappa said.

    Vehicular traffic through and around the site could be rearranged so that it is less redundant and confusing, she said.

    Though county officials don’t have specific plans for the fairground buildings, many people who spoke during a public hearing in September want the county to rent more buildings to community groups.

    “The best thing would be to remodel the buildings on top of the hill,” said Joseph Hedderman, chief instructor at Allegheny County Budo-Kai, a martial arts school that has occupied one of the buildings since the 1980s. “All of these little buildings could be signed over to groups and remodeled like ours.”

    During the past two months, teams from Homestead-based GAI Consultants gathered ideas from people about what they’d like the county to do with the fairgrounds and parts of the surrounding park. Online surveys are available at

    The meeting will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Inn, off Buffalo Drive near the intersection of Brownsville Road and Corrigan Drive.

  6. ‘Isaly’s Building’ in Irwin Saved by Main Street Deli

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010
    By Norm Vargo

    Lou Botti is realizing a childhood dream.

    “I used to love it as a kid when my family went to shop in Irwin. I knew we would end up at Isaly’s for an ice cream,” recalled the North Huntingdon contractor.

    “I would think to myself: Someday I’d like to own an Isaly’s.”

    It’s not an iconic Isaly’s, Mr. Botti, 41, now owns. It’s the landmark Hamilton Building along Main Street, which many in town still call “Isaly’s.” For 43 years it housed the immensely popular dairy store, deli and bakery until it closed in 2004.

    Earlier this month, Mr. Botti opened the Main Street Deli and Bakery in that space. The store offers cold deli sandwiches, pies, assorted pastries baked on the premises, milk, bread, buns, lunch meats, cheese and ice cream, the Hershey brand.

    Mr. Botti plans to add a full kitchen later.

    The interior was renovated to give the deli a retro look. A meat slicer left from the old Isaly’s sits on the back shelf.

    The familiar white slate marquee sign with the black script lsaly’s logo remains.

    “The sign is not intended to mislead people. I don’t own an Isaly’s, I don’t sell Isaly’s products,” Mr. Botti said. “It’s that the sign has a historical significance in Irwin’s downtown. The dairy store-deli was a destination for folks. Old-timers still call it “Isaly’s.”

    “Lots of memories are in there, including mine,” Mr. Botti said.

    “Customers keep bringing in mementos and souvenirs from the old Isaly’s. They want to share their treasures with me. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

    A little history:

    The late Art Lewis founded a dairy store in Irwin 65 years ago. The business outgrew its building.

    When the Hamilton Building in the heart of downtown became available, he bought it.

    About that time, Isaly’s began franchising. Mr. Lewis recognized the potential for a dairy store-deli in Irwin. He negotiated a franchise that would become so popular that he opened another Isaly’s in the Norwin Shopping Center in North Huntingdon.

    Bakery goods were baked in the Irwin Isaly’s daily and delivered to the other store. Mr. Lewis retired in 1986 and sold that business to concentrate on the Irwin store.

    Potential deals to purchase the three-story brick Isaly’s Building and the delicatessen, which was being operated by family members, fell through.

    The structure deteriorated. Borough officials were considering condemnation.

    “What council didn’t want to do was to tear down that landmark building and leave a vacant lot right in the middle of the downtown business district,” said Councilwoman Danyce Neal.

    “We all were hoping somebody would buy it and restore,” Ms. Neal said.

    Urged by Donn Henderson, the Irwin Main Street manager, Mr. Botti purchased the building in 2007.

    He immediately corrected a multitude of building code violations to make the structure sound.

    Then he renovated four apartments on the upper floors. All were rented before completion.

    “I really was interested in those apartments,” said Mr. Botti, who estimated he “has put about $300,000” into the building.

    “My initial plan was to find somebody to put in a deli,” he continued. “Three investors looked at it, but no deal materialized.

    “I figured three years was long enough to wait. I decided to open one.”

    Mr. Henderson said he hoped the deli would attract investors to invest in other businesses in the community.

    For details, call 724-515-5525.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633