Swift kick: It’s now or never for the August Wilson Center

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Sometimes the best motivator is a swift kick in the pants.

That’s not what supporters of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture were seeking from Judge Lawrence O’Toole, but maybe his decision Monday to allow for the sale of the $40 million building will amount to that.

The Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans’ Court judge, who is overseeing the fate of the debt-crippled cultural asset, gave a green light to conservator Judith Fitzgerald to liquidate the property. The center has a $7 million mortgage with Dollar Bank that is part of its overall $9 million to $10 million debt.

Supporters of rescuing the center, including the Post-Gazette, have been arguing that more time is needed to develop a plan that would provide funds and a vision for moving forward. Although Ms. Fitzgerald said Monday that she could have a buyer identified within two months, any sale must be approved by the court.

That means a small window is still open for those, like Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who have been talking to other influential Pittsburghers about how to save the August Wilson Center. The window is still open for E.J. Strassburger, the civic-minded attorney who wanted to pursue a rescue effort. But the window is slowly closing.

Judge O’Toole’s decision is a warning that supporters of the August Wilson Center, named for the Pittsburgh native who became one of America’s greatest playwrights, are nearly out of time. But, in the spirit of the center’s namesake, who grew up in the Hill District and saw his work performed on Broadway, we believe that even that obstacle can be overcome.


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