A vote on whether the Strip District’s Fruit Auction and Sales Building should be designated as a historic structure will be delayed another week.
Council’s newest member, Deb Gross, represents the Strip District, and is in favor of preserving the building to the fullest extent possible.
“Having said the word 'preserve,' everyone understands that some modifications are going to be needed to that property in order for it to achieve a positive function in the Strip District and a positive function in the business mix,” Gross said.
In Wednesday’s Council Committee meeting, questions were raised about the need for such a designation.
The building is currently owned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and is leased to Buncher Company, a real estate developer.
As part of the agreement between the URA and Buncher, the developer will have the option to purchase the building until the end of 2015. The disposition agreement also requires that the sale be approved by City Council before it is finalized.
But neither the URA nor the assistant city solicitor could speak to whether or not council members could modify the sale agreement.
“I don’t understand the value in it coming to the council for oversight if there isn’t an ability to put conditions on the sale,” said Councilman Bruce Kraus.
Kraus said, if the issue came up for a vote during that meeting, he would vote for it, but that he was in favor of preserving through other means if possible. The councilman expressed frustration over the lack of information available about what final City Council approval of the sale would entail.
Paul Svoboda, special projects manager at the URA, said historic preservation is already built into the disposition agreement, which was negotiated with the help of the State Historic Museum Commission, the Heinz History Center, Neighbors in the Strip, and the Young Preservationists, among other groups.
The agreement allows for demolition of approximately 500 square feet of the building, while leaving the remainder of the 1500 foot long structure intact.
Svoboda said the agreement requires that Buncher repair the existing structure with materials salvaged from demolition or with appropriate like materials.
He said that agreement already negotiated with Buncher will actually do a better job of preserving the building than a historic designation would, calling this development “one of most overseen projects” in the city.
“If we see a violation taking place, they’d be in breach of contract,” Svoboda said. “We’d be able to foreclose on the contract, and we’d be able to pull the property back into city hands immediately.”
The historic designation of the produce terminal is supported by Preservation Pittsburgh. Svoboda said the URA asked for input from that group in crafting the agreement with Buncher, but that the group declined to participate.
Council also asked the city solicitor to find out if just a portion of the building could be designated as a historic structure, and if the issue could be brought up in a future council if it is voted down in this council.
Buncher has previously said that a historic designation could deter them from purchasing the building at all. Representatives from the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.