980 Liberty Partners asks court to void URA subpoena in August Wilson Center purchase

A New York developer seeking to buy the August Wilson Center for African American Culture is in no mood to bare its finances — or anything else, for that matter — to the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority.

In an emergency petition filed Tuesday, 980 Liberty Partners has asked a judge to quash a 16-page subpoena issued by the URA asking for reams of information, including the developer’s means of financing the acquisition and internal communications between its executives, employees and others related to the center.

Eric Soller, 980 Liberty’s attorney, said very little of the information requested by the URA was relevant to the issue at hand — whether deed restrictions would prevent the sale of the Downtown property to the developer.

“I don’t think the internal workings of 980 Liberty Partners are relevant to the covenants,” he said, adding the requests for documents and testimony were “very broad.”

The subpoena was part of the pretrial work being done in anticipation of a late September hearing on the deed restrictions. Mr. Soller argued in the motion that 980 Liberty’s understanding of the covenants “is not relevant” to the legal issue.

Court rules allow for subpoenas to be quashed or protective orders issued to block discovery “to protect a party or person from unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden or expense,” according to the motion.

Judge Lawrence O’Toole of Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans’ Court already has excused the state and the foundations involved in the August Wilson Center sale from having to turn over documents related to the covenants. The 980 Liberty motion will be heard Friday.

The URA is trying to block 980 Liberty from buying the building for $9.5 million. It prefers a $7.2 million offer advanced by the Pittsburgh Foundations, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Part of that bid would include $1.2 million from the URA and $1 million from Allegheny County.

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

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