Website to raise funds for Wilson Center

Founders, others hope to resurrect debt-ridden center

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More than 50 people filled a conference room and another 20 spilled into the main part of the Downtown branch of the Carnegie Library Saturday to plan a strategy to save the debt-strapped August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Late last month, Judge Lawrence O'Toole of Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans' Court issued an order for the court-appointed conservator, former U.S. bankruptcy judge Judith Fitzgerald, to sell the building to pay off a $7 million debt, stating he found "no other reasonable or cognizable option."

One of the center's founders, former city councilman Sala Udin, told the gathering that the founding group is working to reverse the course and has retained an attorney to determine the legal framework for fundraising.

Support is being built for pledges on the website www.savetheaugustwilsoncenter.com.

Judge Fitzgerald is collecting proposals from prospective buyers by March 31 to have the building's acquisition settled by June 30.

"A successful resurrection is going to be a long struggle," Mr. Udin said, noting it took the founders 14 years planning and raising the $42 million to have it built. "We have to look at our mistakes and honestly analyze them because they will be the foundation of doing it right the next time."

A dozen children from the Pittsburgh Youth Empowerment Council carried signs in support of the center to the meeting.

Shakira Baker, vice president of the group, said the children have pledged $3,000.

Warner Macklin III, a media adviser to Judge Fitzgerald, said the judge's job "is to find money to keep the center open in its current form or a different form." He said she has met with possible funders "but so far the conversations have not been fruitful."

The center, named for the renowned playwright who grew up in Pittsburgh's Hill District, opened in 2009. The late Wilson's niece Kimberly Ellis said the financial debacle is not a stain on her uncle.

"People have come from all over the world to the August Wilson Center," she said. "Pittsburgh should be embarrassed. August Wilson will be OK."


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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