Local Civic Groups Trigger Eleventh-Hour Deal to Save Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center for African American Culture

Just as a trial was getting under way in the protracted dispute over the future of the debt-ridden August Wilson Center for African American Culture in downtown Pittsburgh, a soon-to-be-formed nonprofit foundation reached a multi-party settlement to buy the property for $8.49 million.

Just as a trial was getting under way in the protracted dispute over the future of the debt-ridden August Wilson Center for African American Culture in downtown Pittsburgh, a soon-to-be-formed nonprofit foundation reached a multi-party settlement to buy the property for $8.49 million.

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, court-appointed receiver Judith Fitzgerald agreed to retract a previous deal with court-approved high bidder 980 Liberty Partners LP of New York and enter a new agreement with the URA-supported rival bid for the purchase of the property. The new proposal was advanced by a consortium of local civic groups led by the Pittsburgh Foundation, who plans to fully re-establish the center.

The New York developer had bid $9.5 million to construct a 10-story luxury hotel on top of the building, while providing a limited free space for the museum. Government officials however turned down the offer, saying that the building must be used exclusively as an African American cultural center, as per the deed covenants.

Last year, Dollar Bank filed an action with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, seeking to have the property sold at sheriff sale. The bank claims the center is nearly $8 million in default of its mortgage.

“I am very pleased that through collaboration among the city, Allegheny County, our foundation community and Dollar Bank we reached a settlement today that preserves the future of the August Wilson Center as a place to celebrate African-American culture. In Pittsburgh, we work together to solve our problems, and that is what we did here to preserve this vitally important asset,” Mayor William Peduto said in a prepared statement.

Named in honor of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in the city’s Hill District, the August Wilson Center opened in 2009. It offers multiple exhibition galleries, a 486-seat theater for performances in all genres, an education center for classes, lectures and hands-on learning, as well as dazzling spaces for community programs and events. A significant portion of the $40 million cost of the project was financed through public and private foundations.

Photo credits: www.perkinswill.com