Foundations drop bid for cultural center

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – A coalition of foundations has dropped a bid to purchase Pittsburgh’s struggling August Wilson Center for African-American Culture.


The Pittsburgh Foundation and its partners announced the decision in a statement Monday, saying court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald appeared to favor a higher bid for the property and persisting would be “futile.”


The center honors the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who grew up in Pittsburgh. A judge recently approved selling off its downtown building to settle a mortgage default and other debts totaling about $10 million.


The conservator said two of the three other bids fall into the dining and entertainment category while the fourth is from a developer who wants to build commercial space on top of the $40 million building, which was built using $17.4 million in taxpayer money and opened in 2009.


Fitzgerald, a former bankruptcy judge, said in an interim report last week that the developer’s bid could be “very attractive to the city, the county and the African-American community in Pittsburgh,” because the proposed commercial addition could subsidize arts-related programing. Fitzgerald said the developer is offering free gallery, office and storage space to the center, which would be able to use the theater for at least 120 days a year at a nominal fee.


The foundations, however, voiced “significant concerns” about the bid, saying it “would apparently give the center only limited access to its own theater and create an arrangement whose eligibility for future charitable funding is questionable at best.”


Fitzgerald said the foundations’ offer would in effect form a new nonprofit entity “of an undefined mission, somehow related to African-American culture.” But the foundations said they had always intended for the center to be used for its original purpose “as a premier home for African-American arts and culture programs.”


The center previously hosted jazz concerts, plays, dance, art exhibits and films, as well as town hall and cultural events.


Fitzgerald is to make a recommendation to Orphans’ Court Judge Lawrence O’Toole, who will decide the matter.


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