URA defends move to block sale of August Wilson Center to New York developer



Contrary to claims by Dollar Bank, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority argued Tuesday that it is being a good public steward in trying to block the sale of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture to a New York developer.

In a response to a counterclaim filed last week by the bank, the URA stated that it’s required under law to enforce covenants tied to the land. It maintains those covenants mandate that the property be used as an African-American cultural center and that no alterations to the $40 million building can be made without its consent.

While the URA conceded that unused development rights related to the property would allow for the construction of a hotel, as Dollar has asserted, it said that any such plan would have to be submitted to and approved by the URA board.

It stated that it objects to the purchase by 980 Liberty Partners because the developer wants to turn the building into a “hotel lobby, with incidental use” as an African-American cultural center.

The bank, which holds the center’s delinquent $7.9 million mortgage, claimed last week that there’s nothing in the property deed or city-approved redevelopment plans that restricts the use of the building to an African-American cultural center. The deed does state, however, that any improvements must be approved by the URA.

Dollar also has argued that the URA made the covenants secondary to its rights in 2012 negotiations over a loan for the center. The URA replied Tuesday that it did no such thing, accusing the bank of a “contrived misinterpretation” of the agreement.

Court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald put the Downtown building up for sale after the center defaulted on its mortgage and Dollar moved to foreclose. Developer 980 Liberty is offering $9.5 million, the high bid, for the property.

Judge Lawrence O’Toole has scheduled a trial on the covenants Sept. 29. Dollar plans to foreclose on the building Oct. 6 if it is not sold by then.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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