Petitioners seek to keep Wilson Center open

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Some of the workers who have been directly affected by the financial woes of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture are petitioning public officials to keep it afloat.

The petition, submitted on behalf of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 3, is directed toward Mayor-elect Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh City Council.

"Many members/employees have not been paid for months and are awaiting payment while continuing to work at the facility in an effort to ensure its viability," union secretary treasurer Shawn W. Foyle wrote in an emailed statement.

The petition states, "Financial support from former public authorities has stopped and needs to be reinstituted in an effort to create a strategy for paying down debt and establishing a new business model. This art and cultural center should be our top priority, and funding should be released to this experienced Judge [Judith Fitzgerald] to enable the August Wilson Center to succeed."

Since Sunday, more than 100 people have signed the petition. Signers wrote comments such as, "As a member of the entertainment industry, it is always important to keep any and all theatres alive!" and "The mistakes of the past should not be held against Judge Fitzgerald's efforts to save this important Pittsburgh cultural center."

The August Wilson Center owes money to a number of organizations and individuals, and the patience of some has worn thin. Dollar Bank filed a foreclosure on the center for outstanding mortgage payments this fall. As a result, Judge Fitzgerald was appointed as its conservator in November.

On Monday, an attempt by Duquesne Light to shut off electricity at the center was deflected when Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O'Toole ruled in the center's favor.

The motion was submitted by an attorney on behalf of Judge Fitzgerald and applies to all utilities.

The center owes Duquesne Light $38,000 and is running up bills of $10,000 a month, spokesman Joseph Vallarian confirmed. Company officials will discuss whether to file for a court order to shut off utilities, he said.

Elizabeth Bloom: or 412-263-1750. Molly Born contributed.

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