produce terminal

After more than six months of proposals, evaluation and speculation, the Urban Redevelopment Authority today voted to award negotiation rights for the redevelopment Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction & Sales Building—colloquially known as the Produce Terminal—not to one of the three alternative developers vying for the project, but two.

The URA will enter negotiations for 90 days with Chicago-based McCaffery Interests and Pittsburgh’s Rubino Partners in an attempt to merge their proposals.

The news comes as something of a surprise to Strip District stakeholders, many of whom thought the McCaffery plan a clear front-runner over competing bids from Rubino and Cleveland’s MCM-Ferchill Group. The vote came down 3-0 in favor of dual collaboration with State Sen. Jim Ferlo abstaining.

It’s unclear what collaboration between McCaffery and Rubino might look like or how it would be paid for. The McCaffery plan was lauded for its variety. Its $46.4 million proposal included more than 110 live-work units, 25,000 square-feet of office space and around 35,000 square-feet of retail space.

The $19.4 million Rubino plan, spearheaded by local architect Rob Pfaffmann, called for 40,000 square-feet of retail, 33,000 square-feet of public market space with nearly 14,000 square-feet in exterior vendor space and an additional 21,000 square-feet in common areas. Financing for both plans relied on a combination of developer equity, loans and various tax credits.

In the weeks since Fourth Economy, the consulting firm guiding the city through the process of choosing a new developer for the Produce Terminal, presented its evaluations of all three plans at a public meeting in early August, many Strip District business owners and residents voiced support for the McCaffery plan or took issue with the Rubino proposal because they fear it could damage the Penn Avenue business district. You can read NEXT’s coverage of the meeting here, and view Fourth Economy’s evaluations in a document on the URA’s website.

“We queried Penn Avenue business owners as to which plan they liked and why, and McCaffery came out the winner,” says Neighbors in the Strip Executive Director Becky Rodgers.

As of Thursday morning, Neighbors had collected more than 20 letters from Strip District stakeholders, all of which expressed either support for the McCaffery plan, opposition to the Rubino plan or some combination thereof.

“We’re concerned,” says Rina Edwards, whose family has owned Parma Sausage in the Strip District since 1954. “While I’m glad something is getting done, I wish the city had a better idea of what is going to be done.”

Ferlo, who supports the McCaffery plan, says that trying to negotiate with two developers unnecessarily convolutes the matter, and wrote that much in an open letter circulated among Strip District stakeholders on Thursday. The letter, in which Ferlo dismisses refers to Thursday’s URA vote as “a joke,” was openly critical of the Rubino plan.

“We already have a large urban marketplace—it’s called Penn Avenue and Smallman Street—it just doesn’t have a roof over it,” the letter said.

The letter caught Pfaffmann’s attention, and the architect hurled insults at the senator via Twitter. Pfaffmann, who has since deleted the tweets, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Rubino team,said Pfaffman’s comments were personal and had nothing to do with the group’s plans for the terminal.

She added that commenting on the URA’s decision would be “premature at this point, since we’ve had no discussions and it appears the URA will be doing the negotiating.”

Calls to McCaffery on Thursday were not immediately returned.

Matthew Wein

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all...