State Sen. Ferlo questions efforts to save August Wilson Center



State Sen. Jim Ferlo isn’t sure the August Wilson Center for African American Culture is worth saving.

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority board member criticized the efforts to do just that Thursday, saying he does not think the center is sustainable over the long haul.

“This is a bottomless pit,” he said.

Mr. Ferlo, D-Highland Park, made his comments in voting against a URA resolution to authorize $60,000 in legal fees to the Clark Hill Thorp Reed law firm related to the court battle over the center’s Downtown building, which is being sold. The measure was approved 3-1.

The senator questioned the wisdom of efforts by Mayor Bill Peduto, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and others in trying to save the center. “I see no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

He acknowledged that he never supported construction of the center, which opened in 2009, and believes that money now being spent to try to save it could be directed to neighborhood projects.

The URA is trying to block the sale of the center’s Downtown building to New York developer 980 Liberty Partners, which offered $9.5 million, the highest of four bids, for the property. Court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald put the real estate up for sale after the center defaulted on its $7 million mortgage last year.

While Mr. Ferlo said the URA must protect its legal rights, he added the money might be better spent on hiring a mediator to try to resolve the thorny issues surrounding the sale or to determine if the 980 Liberty Partners plan, which includes construction of a 200-room luxury hotel above the center, “is real.”

Kevin Acklin, URA board chairman and chief of staff to Mr. Peduto, said he understands the frustration over the center’s woes but stressed the mayor’s goal is to craft a deal that preserves the mission of the center. He noted that local foundations and taxpayers have invested more than $30 million in the building.

While Ms. Fitzgerald has a deal with 980 Liberty Partners, she also is working on a “global resolution” involving the developer, foundations, the URA and others to preserve the center’s mission while allowing the hotel to be built.

Also Thursday, the URA board gave developer Allegheny City Development Group LLC until June 24 to provide completed construction drawings and other documents related to the redevelopment of the former Masonic Temple on North Avenue on the North Side or risk losing the building. If it does not provide the material, its main tenant, City of Asylum, will not move ahead and the URA plans to terminate the developer’s rights to the property. An Allegheny City representative said he was confident the deadline would be met.


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

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