The Pennsylvania Fruit Terminal

      The Tenuous Fate of a Fruit Terminal

This is The Pennsylvania Fruit Auction & Sales Building, or as it is known, the “Produce Terminal Building” on Smallman St. in the Strip District. Before I start, please pause for a moment and consider the vast size of this structure.

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It’s a big one, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, since those days in 1926 when it was built, the rails that that efficiently pulled trains up along its quarter mile expanse have been replaced by more efficient paved roads and tractor trailers. The Terminal could not compete against the sprawling suburban development of the 20th Century, and the building eventually eroded into bankruptcy and blight. Elements– Meteorological and Economical–had not been kind either to this, albeit impressive, specimen  of a building. From 1981 to 1983, the Urban Redevelopment Authority acquired the property, and dedicated $2.5 million to develop the northern (furthest from town) side. I remember as a kid, strolling the maze-like expanse with my Dad, through palates and cases filled  with discounted cereals, supplies, and canned goods…I remember it well and fondly. It was the precursor to what we now call Big Box Retail and Discount Outlets, but much, much cooler.

raiders
sort of like this…but with lower ceilings

Fast forward to today. The Urban Redevelopment Authority still owns the building,  but The Buncher Co. now owns  much of the riverfront  land behind it, and is in the works to purchase the entire structure from the city for $1.8 million. They have generously agreed to reconstruct the northern 2/3 of the building,  but plan to demolish a third of the structure, the 535 feet of it that sits next to the bridge, due to structural deficiencies and to provide  accessibility routes to the future development. This past Spring, Buncher posted a “Notice of Demolition” on the doors, slated for April 29th, 2013. Issues arose when folks realized  Buncher  planned the demolition date before  they were to purchase the property. It wasn’t yet theirs to tear down.

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Councilmen Bill Peduto and Councilman  Patrick Dowd, who have both been very active and vocal about the Strip District’s Riverfront Development, spoke out against the plan to demolish before the sale. “I don’t see how they possibly could consider it,” (Dowd) said of the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection. “If I’m the proper owner and apply, that’s one thing. If I’m not the property owner, I don’t believe I would have that right.” (source: Pgh Post Gazette)

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Sarah Kroloff, a member of the local historic society, “Preservation Pittsburgh”, filed an official Historic Property nomination form, effectively halting the demolition over the Summer until a decision is reached.  The Preservation Pittsburgh  Society claims that the structure exemplifies innovation in style and design, is distinguished by its uniqueness, and is a well-known and defining feature of the City of Pittsburgh. For these reasons,  Kroloff and her supporters feel the 87-year-old building should be maintained in its entirety. It is the very length of the building that defines it, and the lenght must be preserved.  No official date has been set for the hearing, but as always, I’ll keep yinz posted.

It’s an interesting debate, one that I particularly don’t know quite where to stand. I have been skeptical of The Buncher Co. and their concept of  “urban design”. I love the Strip for its rawness–its genuine  Rust Belt personality– many of the new, extremely high rent  properties being built have the feel of a ritzy suburban mall plaza to me, and nobody got time for that. This is the Strip District; anyone who goes in and tries to change its unique character and its openness to ALL Pittsburghers will end up just making a mess and losing a lot of their money in the end. Many Pittsburghers (myself included) feel that Architects and Designers need a more “organic” approach to redeveloping the Strip. You can’t just pave what is there and start over with buildings that don’t fit.

It really ties the Strip together, ya know?

Still, structural costs cannot be just ignored for sake of nostalgia, and few would argue that re-engineering the dangerous parking and pedestrian situation on Smallman is vital and long overdue. I’d love to hear what yinz think.  Is the building enough of a Pittsburgh icon to make it worth keeping in its entirety, or should Buncher be able to do what they want with it?

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5 thoughts on “The Pennsylvania Fruit Terminal

  1. This is one of the less worrying aspects of the Buncher plan for me. I think losing a third of a massive, mostly unused building would be a fair price to pay for a well designed project. The problem is that the project is not well designed at all. Bland architecture. Private streets. Very little space to accommodate public transportation, trail access, and anti-erosion measures along the riverfront. And their “my way or the highway” attitude about it is nauseating. Why should any public agency bend over backwards to help them if their primary argument is that it’s their property and they can do whatever they want with it, public goods be damned?

  2. I am not sure if this is the right place to post this or not. But who gave them the right to collect money for parking on the city street in the strip district. I have not been down there for a long time but when I saw they where charging to park I could not believe. I wonder If I can charge people to park in front of my house that I own

  3. Regarding parking in front of the Produce Terminal – the property line for that property extends significantly into what most people see as Smallman Street. The seeming width of the street was to allow trucks to load and unload in front of warehouse buildings on both sides of the street and those allowances are part of the warehouse property. The actual street is no wider than it is elsewhere in the Strip – two narrow lanes – so the parking referenced is not on public property, but on private property. For many years renters in the building received a few parking spaces as a part of their rent and other weekday parkers were charged, but the charges were waived on weekends. This policy has recently been changed to include weekends since with minimal renters there is no need to allow parking spaces for renters.

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