New York developer, local foundations exploring 'consensual resolution' on August Wilson Center

A compromise may be in the works in the sale of the debt-plagued August Wilson Center for African American Culture Downtown.

In a filing Monday, court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald said New York developer 980 Liberty Partners and local foundations are exploring a possible "consensual resolution" to the controversial sale of the building to pay off a delinquent $7 million mortgage and other debts.

In her interim report, Ms. Fitzgerald said she has been meeting with the developer and foundations to "discuss various ideas concerning the ownership and design of the property" in advance of a status conference scheduled Wednesday.

At the same time, Ms. Fitzgerald urged Judge Lawrence O'Toole, of Allegheny County Common Pleas orphans' court, to approve the sale to 980 Liberty Partners, which submitted the highest bid of $9.5 million for the property with plans to put a 200-room luxury hotel on top of it.

The sale approval, she argued, is needed so that engineering studies can be done and due diligence can take place to determine not only if the hotel project is feasible but also if other proposals discussed with the foundations could be.

Once the due diligence has been completed, 980 Liberty Partners has committed to meeting with the receiver, the foundations, the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, the state attorney general and others, as needed, "with the aim of trying to reach a global 'win-win' resolution that provides for both payment of creditors and preservation of AWC's mission," Ms. Fitzgerald stated.

In addition to asking the judge to authorize the sales agreement, she wants him to require the parties involved to meet with her "in an effort to consensually resolve their differences."

While she didn't name the foundations involved, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation previously submitted a $4 million bid to buy the building before withdrawing it, saying Ms. Fitzgerald favored the 980 Liberty Partners offer.

In response to Ms. Fitzgerald's latest filing, John Ellis, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Foundation, said, "The foundations are part of ongoing discussions with the receiver and other parties concerning the future of the August Wilson Center."

On Friday, Matthew Shollar, a Squirrel Hill developer who is a partner in 980 Liberty Partners, declined to talk about specific discussions but said that his group is having "a lot of different conversations with a lot of different constituencies" with hopes of achieving "a positive outcome for all of those involved."

Mayor Bill Peduto, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the URA and the state attorney general are opposed to the sale to 980 Liberty Partners, which is offering the August Wilson Center free gallery, storage and office space and use of the theater for at least 120 days a year at a nominal fee. It also is hoping to set up an ongoing revenue stream to aid in continuing the center's mission.

The URA has argued that deed covenants prevent the building, named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who grew up in the Hill District, from being used for anything but an African American cultural center, a position Ms. Fitzgerald disputes.

Mark Belko: or 412-263-1262. First Published May 19, 2014 6:50 PM

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