URA asks judge to confirm restrictions for use of August Wilson Center

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The sale of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture Downtown should be bound by deed covenants that would restrict the use of the property, the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority argued today.

In a motion for declaratory judgment, the URA asked Judge Lawrence O'Toole of Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans' Court to rule in favor of covenants that would restrict the use of the property to an African American cultural center until June 10, 2021, and prohibit major changes to the exterior without the URA's consent.

If Judge O'Toole rules in the URA's favor at a hearing July 3, it likely would kill the deal court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald has reached with 980 Liberty Partners to buy the building for $9.5 million. The New York developer wants to build a 200-room luxury hotel on top of the center and the URA has indicated that it would not approve such a use.

Representatives for 980 Liberty Partners have said the developer's main interest is in building the hotel and that if that can't be done, it would walk away from the purchase.

The URA, backed by Mayor Bill Peduto and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, favors a sale to three foundations -- the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation -- that have bid $5 million for the building with the intent of preserving the center's mission as a hub for African-American culture.

Today's filing sets the stage for the July 3 hearing, at which point Judge O'Toole is expected to rule on the issue of the covenants and whether the sale to 980 Liberty Partners can move forward.

If the sale falls through, Dollar Bank, which holds the $7 million delinquent mortgage on the building, is seeking permission from Judge O'Toole to foreclose on the property. It has said that its rights supersede those of the URA, which is owed more than $500,000 by the center, and that, as a result, it is not bound by the covenants.

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

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