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Officials Say Strip's Produce Terminal Will 'Complement' Not Compete With Penn Ave. Merchants

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
Aaron Severance and Randy Collins of Gateway Engineers survey the topography of Smallman Street in front of the Produce Terminal.

A full rehabilitation of Pittsburgh’s Produce Terminal is expected to be completed in August of 2020. City and county officials gathered in the Strip District on Tuesday to celebrate the building’s future.

Small cocktail tables dotted the now-empty terminal, separated from construction vehicles and debris by a temporary stage. A three-piece band warmed up as waiters circulated with glasses of water. Standing just inside one of the old unloading docks, Mayor Bill Peduto said restoring the building is the linchpin to continued growth of the Strip.

“You’re going to have a riverfront Strip District, you’re going to have Smallman Street Strip District, you’re going to have Penn Avenue Strip District,” he said. “You complement Penn Avenue, you don’t compete against Penn Avenue.”

Dan McCaffery, CEO of Chicago-based developer McCaffery Interests said he intends for that to be the case.

Credit Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Balloons marked the entrance to the Produce Terminal for the groundbreaking. The warehouse across the street, 1600 Smallman, will be redeveloped as retail and office space.

“But now we have to make it work,” he said. “I’m sure there will be some bruised ribs in some places, and in other places they’ll feel that ‘wow, I had a bonanza because there’s so many more people here.’”

McCaffery said one of the challenges with developing such a large building is figuring out how to keep the experience exciting for visitors.

“So you just parked your car and you say ‘Well, I know there’s a store down there I wanna go to.’ Look how far it is,” he said. “It’s 1,600 feet of ‘make this interesting McCaffery, and make those merchants want to be here and when the merchants are here, encourage their creativity.’”

Tenants have not yet been announced, but McCaffery said there’s so much interest he could fully lease the 157,000-square foot building now. One end of the Produce Terminal is slated to be a food hall, the rest will be retail space and restaurants.

Councilor Deb Gross, who consistently raised concerns about how the project would affect longtime merchants, characterized the final result as a compromise. Now, she wants to focus on how to keep commercial spaces affordable for businesses.

“In the Strip District we are increasingly a residential neighborhood,” she said. “You may not think to yourself that the Strip District needs a dentist or a drugstore or a daycare or a dry cleaner … if everything’s an expensive space, then these residents don’t have access to neighborhood-serving businesses.”

Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority purchased the Produce Terminal in the 1980s, and started looking for a way to give new life to the building that stretches from 16th Street to 21st Streets. A now defunct contract with the Buncher Company included plans to knock down a portion of the building. Negotiations with McCaffery began nearly five years ago.

Work on the building began in March and is expected to run to early August 2020. General contractor PJ Dick will put on a new roof and install new windows, restore the building’s facade and build passageways to the riverfront at 17th and 18th streets.

McCaffery Interests is also redeveloping a former warehouse across the street from the terminal building. The 1600 Smallman project will be a mix of retail and office space.

The Department of Mobility and Infrastructure will begin improvements to Smallman Street in September. That work will include painting a new traffic pattern for cyclists and cars sharing the road, new medians and plazas, new lighting, and stairs and ramps to connect the Produce Terminal’s dock level to the street. A tax increment financing deal was approved to fund the work.

At a recent event, the department solicited public input on the project as well as future work in the Strip District. Residents asked for features such as more greenery, better bikeways, and parking.