RAD board wants a say in Wilson center future

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Members of the Regional Asset District board said Friday they want to be involved in discussions about the future of the troubled August Wilson Center.

“We think that we have a role to play,” said Dusty Kirk, the newly elected chair of the RAD board.

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture defaulted on its mortgage last year and has $10 million in debts. Its future has been in question for months.

Judith Fitzgerald, the appointed conservator for the building, has asked Judge Lawrence O’Toole of the Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphan’s Court for approval to sell the building to New York firm 980 Liberty Partners, whose $9.5 million offer was the highest of four bids for the Downtown property.

The developer says it will build a 200-room hotel on top of the Liberty Avenue building and will provide the center with free gallery, office and storage space, plus use of the theater for at least 120 days a year.

“I think we need to know more about their bid, and that’s why we’d like a role at the table,” Ms Kirk said Friday.

Board members, who spoke about the value of the center as an African-American cultural asset, plan to send a letter to Judge O’Toole and Ms. Fitzgerald.

Dan Griffin, vice chair of the RAD board, said he wants a better sense of the framework for the bidder’s plan to devote 120 days a year to theater use, saying there were more questions to be asked about the plan, and that RAD board members should have a seat at the table to ask them.

“We are probably the biggest voice of the public because we are funded by sales tax, and everyone pays sales tax,” Mr. Griffin said.

The district, which is funded by the Allegheny County Sales and Use Tax and supports assets including libraries, parks and recreation, has allocated $3,547,500 to the August Wilson Center for planning, operations and programming over the years, according to executive director David Donahoe.

However, $225,000 of that amount was held in escrow from the 2013 allocation due to the turmoil surrounding the center last year. Another $300,000 was reserved for the center in RAD’s 2014 budget, but has not been allocated.

Friday was Ms. Kirk’s first meeting as chair. Ms. Kirk, a Squirrel Hill attorney, said she is beginning her sixth year on the RAD board. She previously was vice chair and has served one past term as chair.

She replaces Mr. Griffin, who served three consecutive terms as chair and was not eligible for another. He was elected vice chair.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published May 2, 2014 5:18 PM

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