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The Pittsburgh Produce Terminal, officially called The Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction & Sales Building, has been in the news quite a bit the last two years. It seems it is the target of redevelopment, with strong opinions for and against the various projects that have been proposed. So in 2012 I made an effort to get some photos before it was gone. The occasion was an Independence Day visit to my cousins' new loft apartment in the redeveloped Cork Factory, just a few blocks away, to view the fireworks in downtown Pittsburgh. In addition to the photos I took, I have enjoyed researching the history of the building on the Internet. Here is what I learned.
The Produce Terminal is massive - it measures 1,500 feet long and spans four city blocks! It was built in 1926 (some sources say 1929) and was once serviced by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Fruit and produce would be unloaded from the railcars, then auctioned or sold to local restaurants and grocery stores. I understand that this activity usually happened in the wee hours of the morning, so the fresh food could be in the stores ready for customers when they opened. The building is bordered on the south by Smallman Street, which runs through the heart of Pittsburgh's Strip District (so named because it is a "strip" of land between Herron Hill and the Allegheny River). The building fell into neglect in the 1970's and was acquired by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in the early 1980's. The URA has made no secret that it would like to sell the building to a developer, based on their characterization of the building as "blighted." The few remaining tenants, however, maintain that they have only been granted month-to-month leases, which makes it pretty difficult to grow your business or attract new tenants. There are reportedly many structural problems with the building, perhaps too many to economically repair. It is the building unique and historic? Absolutely! Regardless, there must be a plan to pay for rehabilitation and repairs, and to produce the necessary revenue stream to keep the building operating. Redevelopment of some sort may be the best option to preserve some of the structure.
Here is the concept plan proposed by the Buncher Corporation to develop the land between the Produce Terminal and the Allegheny River. They propose to demolish roughly the western third of the building, and extend 17th Street towards the river. Pittsburgh City Council would have to approve the sale of the building by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, but the necessary votes are not yet there (although the City's Historic Review Commission unanimously recommended historic status last fall). Nonetheless, on 1/21/14, Council declined to grant historic status to the building, perhaps signaling their true intentions. Other alternative development plans are being entertained with a recent proposal to turn the building into loft apartments (really?). Another possibility is unique shops and food-related businesses. Wouldn't it be neat to have our own Faneuil Hall (Boston) or Reading Terminal Market (Philadelphia)? Stay tuned for further developments.
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