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STRIP DISTRICT (KDKA) — The on-again, off-again plans to develop the aging produce terminal in the Strip District took a big step forward Thursday.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority took a preliminary vote to approve a 99-year lease of the terminal to Chicago developer Dan McCaffrey. It will mean a $50 million makeover for Smallman Street in the Strip.

KDKA’s Paul Martino Reports:

The ambitious plan to convert a nearly 100-year-old railroad loading dock into shops, offices and restaurants has often been controversial since original concepts called for demolishing part of the terminal.

This plan, however, will preserve the building, converting it into retail, restaurants and pedestrian passages.

“The original proposal was for housing. We’ve now changed that to a mixed-use development that includes small and local businesses,” said Urban Redevelopment Authority Chairman Kevin Acklin. “The type of development is one that compliments Penn Avenue. It doesn’t take away from the character of the Strip District.”

In fact, they plan on making the 5-block stretch of Smallman much more friendly to pedestrians.

“We should make it the go-to place in Pittsburgh for any number of things. Food, entertainment, the arts, and to live,” McCaffrey said. “[It should be] our gathering place with restaurants, bars, food-centric market, some small shops and so on. It’s going to be marvelous.”

McCaffrey has already purchased a large abandoned building across the street at 1600 Smallman. He’s going to invest another $50 million to turn that into an office building.

Pittsburghers are already excited about the redevelopment idea.

“I’m actually really excited about it. I think it was maybe a couple years ago I saw some kind of a plan to redevelop the area. It looked exciting and really nice with all those stores. I used to come when it was the market. We have a lot of space. We should be able to use it,” said Sandra Matoushaya, of Millvale, who enjoys spending time in the Strip District.

Marc Christian, of Cranberry, also enjoys visiting the Strip District, and said, “I think anything that continues to grow Pittsburgh’s culinary scene, shopping, easy to walk around from where you are living, that’s just going to continue the growth and popularity of the city.”

There’s one small fly in the ointment. The URA is trying to work out a new lease with longtime tenant the Society of Contemporary Art before giving final approval to the project.

They hope to have the project done by fall 2019.

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