Pittsburgh, Buncher set to develop Allegheny riverfront

Tuesday, March 09, 2010
By Timothy McNulty, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Longtime dreams of new Allegheny riverfront housing, commercial spaces, bike paths and other recreational amenities are a step closer to reality, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is set to announce today.

The city plans to join forces with the Buncher Co. real estate firm to redevelop some 80 acres of riverfront land, starting in the Strip District and going north 6.5 miles to the foot of Highland Park. The city would combine parcels it owns -- including the historic Produce Terminal on Smallman Street and the 22-acre former Tippins International site at 62nd Street -- with industrial properties Buncher owns in Lawrenceville and the Strip District to create the redevelopment site.

Construction could kick off in the Strip District in 2013, in the 40 undeveloped acres behind the terminal building on the south bank of the Allegheny River. The city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority will spend some $20 million in capital funds to remediate the site and prepare it for redevelopment. Buncher will then follow master plans for that site -- and other parcels dotting the riverfront up through Lawrenceville -- that architects Perkins Eastman have been compiling for the URA over the past year.

The hope is to follow the city's 1990s success in using public-private partnerships to redevelop the former LTV site into the bustling SouthSide Works development.

"This historic development partnership will allow us to reconnect our neighborhoods to the rivers," Mr. Ravenstahl said in a statement. The plans will "unlock the true potential of this portion of the riverfront."

Perkins Eastman has been working for more than a year on the Allegheny Riverfront Vision plan, under a $350,000 contract from the URA. It drew on similar plans from the city's Riverlife Task Force and used input from community meetings the last several months, and is set to deliver the plan next month.

Officials stressed that the developments could take years, or even decades, to complete. The URA bought the 123-acre LTV site in 1993 and the first buildings from the Soffer Organization weren't completed for 11 years. Unlike that project, the 80 acres in the current plan are spread over miles and not completely contiguous.

"It's a dream come true, but a work in progress," said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, who has been pushing redevelopment of the Allegheny riverfront since joining Pittsburgh City Council 23 years ago.

The first formal step is a URA board vote Thursday on an agreement with Buncher. The URA will agree to adding infrastructure such as streets, parks and trails to the parcels behind the terminal building on Smallman Street, which Mr. Ferlo said Buncher will likely use for residential construction. (The Strip has experienced the largest increase in housing sales prices and demand in the city, Perkins Eastman found.)

The estimated $20.5 million cost of those upgrades would likely be paid through local, state and federal capital funds and tax increment financing (TIF). By city estimates, the work would create the equivalent of 5,000 new jobs and $6 million in new tax revenue.

After that project, developers would work up the river, possibly relocating some industrial firms in Buncher-controlled properties from 43rd to 48th streets in Lawrenceville up to the Tippins site less than 20 blocks north. That would create space for riverfront access for Lawrenceville residents -- access, parks and other riverfront amenities are major parts of the master plan. Traffic studies for Butler Street and surrounding roadways would be included.

"It's a progressive domino effect of land uses, for higher and better uses of the corridor," Mr. Ferlo said.

The city plans to honor leases through 2012 for those currently within the produce terminal building and then relocate them. The adjacent construction in the first phase of the project could start in 2013. The Neighbors in the Strip community group already has plans -- partially funded by the URA -- for a public market in portions of the terminal building.

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