The appointed liquidator for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture may be right.
Former bankruptcy judge Judith Fitzgerald believes one of the four bids she received for the Liberty Avenue facility would resolve its financial problems and help preserve its mission better than the competing offers. In a report filed last week, she said a local developer would pay $9.5 million for the building — twice as much as the other three offers — and then construct what is expected to be a hotel atop the current structure. The bidder also would provide free gallery, office and storage space for the Wilson Center, giving it the best shot at a strong future.
So far, though, Ms. Fitzgerald has not convinced Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald (no relation), August Wilson’s niece and local activist Kimberly Ellis, or other parties that are interested in transforming the beleaguered center into the vital community resource its planners conceived five years ago.
Her task is to make a recommendation to Common Pleas Orphans’ Court Judge Lawrence O’Toole, who ultimately will decide the center’s fate.
Her primary goal is to provide the best possible terms for creditors, with a secondary objective of preserving the center’s role.
Because Ms. Fitzgerald recognizes both elements of her charge, she intends to pursue the $9.5 million offer unless otherwise instructed by the judge. That should be a wake-up call to all of the interested parties, who have not been working together, according to Ms. Fitzgerald’s report.
At the same time, the public needs more details, including who all the bidders are and precisely what their plans are for the site. It’s time for serious bidders to waive their confidentiality agreements to allow for public scrutiny.
Once the public has a chance to see what Ms. Fitzgerald and her team have carefully evaluated, the consensus she seeks just may develop.