Menu Contact/Location

Selling Pittsburgh’s Strip District

By Tony LaRussa
Friday, February 29, 2008

Buzz up!

The deal is off.

The city is bagging plans to turn the produce terminal on Smallman Street in the Strip District into a trendy marketplace.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the 140,000-square-foot Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction & Sales Building, signed five-year leases with the tenants last month, leaving just 6 percent of the building unoccupied.

“There’s been a change in thinking away from creating a market house under a single roof to a concept in which the entire Strip is viewed as the city’s market district,” said Rob Stephany, URA deputy executive director. “Ultimately, we want to create a really vibrant retail environment along Smallman and the sides streets that connect with Penn Avenue.

“We see the (produce) terminal building as just one part of the market district.”
Community development group Neighbors in the Strip proposed using $8 million in state and local grants to transform the terminal into a marketplace.

The URA is open to leasing the available 8,000 square feet in the building — or space on the outside platform and along Smallman — to vendors, Stephany said. The URA will work with Neighbors in the Strip to devise plans to advance the market district concept, he said.

Becky Rodgers, executive director of Neighbors in the Strip, said advancing the market district concept will require her organization to focus on projects such as:

• Attracting more residential development

• Branding and marketing the neighborhood as Pittsburgh’s market district

• Helping property owners develop under-utilized second and third floors

• Making Smallman Street safer for pedestrians

• Erecting signs listing the type and location of Strip businesses

• Helping property owners develop “mini-market houses” in buildings that might be too large for a single business.

“Our goal is to promote economic development while preserving the historic character of the Strip,” Rodgers said. “The traditional grittiness is something that stakeholders have said they want preserved.”

Brad Kokowski, who’s owned Superior Produce in the terminal building for 20 years, likes the idea of attracting shoppers from the busy Penn Avenue corridor.

“Right now, there aren’t a lot of reasons for people to come over here,” said Kokowski, whose business is a combination of wholesale and retail. “If it’s done right, this terminal and the area around it could make a great market. I just don’t want to see businesses like mine, which have been here for a long time, pushed out for it to happen.”

Sam Patti, who owns La Prima Espresso Co. in the terminal, thinks the Strip could benefit from using the building’s empty space for more retail, wholesale or a combination of the two — as long as its basic character is not changed.

“The space needs to be clean and secure, but it doesn’t need to be anything fancy,” he said. “This is the Strip. People like the gritty atmosphere. If they want glitzy, there’s plenty of other places around for them to shop.”

Tony LaRussa can be reached at or 412-320-7987.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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