A consortium of foundations led by the and has announced details of a plan for preserving the debt-ridden in Pittsburgh as a preeminent hub for African-American arts and cultural performances.
Proposed last month as a backup plan should a tentatively approved sale of the center for $9.5 million to real estate development firm 980 Liberty Partners fall through, the foundations' $7.2 million bid would transfer ownership of the building to the Pittsburgh Foundation. Under such an arrangement, the center would operate as an affiliate organization of the foundation with its own board, while its day-to-day operations would be contracted to the . The foundations involved in the bid also are considering ongoing grant support for the center's operations, management, and maintenance for an initial period of three to five years, during which period public funding to keep the center running is expected to become available. The foundations' current bid includes $1 million from Allegheny County and $1.2 million from the city's .
"We have been deliberate in our strategy to separate the center's building management from its arts and culture programming so that the August Wilson Center cannot again become encumbered by debt and possible liability," said Pittsburgh Foundation interim CEO Molly Beerman. "If our bid is accepted, the building will be debt-free. We want the center to remain a resource for the community in celebration of African-American arts and culture."
980 Liberty Partners, which hopes to build a ten-story hotel above the center and in May rejected the foundations' proposal to safeguard nonprofit ownership of the building, last week called on public officials and community leaders opposed to its purchase of the property to discuss a compromise solution outside court, the reports. The developer's push for a meeting followed a court filing by the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority in which the agency argued that the developer has yet to submit construction plans or proof of its financial ability to make changes to the exterior of the building as stipulated under the center's deed covenants.
Dollar Bank, which holds the center's delinquent $7.9 million mortgage, criticized the URA for trying to block the sale of the building, arguing that unused development rights related to the property allow for the construction of a hotel on the site, and that the agency had made the covenants secondary to its rights in 2012 negotiations over a loan for the center. A trial on the covenants is scheduled for September 29, while the bank plans to foreclose on the building on October 6 if it hasn't been sold by then.
"We consider our bid to represent the only plan that will preserve the August Wilson Center, both in its structure and its mission," said Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant. "Our plan is simple and guarantees that Pittsburgh will safeguard a cultural and architectural treasure which our community has invested tens of millions of dollars to create."