Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center gets Second Chance

By Mike Downing

DSC05886The August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. is back on track. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (“RAD bets $333K taxpayer grant on August Wilson Center’s comeback”), the Allegheny Regional Asset District Board “awarded a $333,333 ‘connections’ grant to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to spend on operating expenses for the center’s $40 million Downtown building.”

“It gives us the opportunity to accentuate the building’s relationship with the community, and encourage others to provide programming,” said Michael Polite, a board member at the August Wilson Center.

The building is now owned by The Pittsburgh Foundation, whose leaders include CEO Maxwell King Heinz Endowments CEO Grant Oliphant and Richard King Mellon Foundation Director Scott Izzo.

Due to construction overruns, the center started $12 million in debt. It also struggled to pay bills from the day it opened in 2009.

An editorial from the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, (“Troubled no more: RAD’s trust returns to the August Wilson Center”), evokes cautious optimism: “The journey from debt and insolvency to a state of sound financial footing and managerial competence has been a long and arduous one for the August Wilson Center. There were many who believed it was a lost cause a few years ago. Fortunately, the center found its footing and has been able to inspire the confidence of people and institutions such as RAD that it needs most to forge a successful future.”

In addition, the conservator assigned to oversee the recovery of the center is happy that the process is finally over.

“I’m done,” said conservator Judith Fitzgerald.

According to an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, (“Conservator for August Wilson Center happy case is over”), Judge Lawrence O’Toole of Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans’ Court signed an order Jan. 20 discharging the conservator and terminating the case.

The journey has been filled with twists and turns. At one point, Ms. Fitzgerald had a “deal to sell the building to a New York developer that wanted to put a hotel on top of it only to abandon it in the face of opposition from local political leaders and others.”

Eventually, the property was sold at sheriff sale to Dollar Bank, which held the delinquent mortgage.

Dollar then sold the real estate to the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation for $7.9 million.

Ms. Fitzgerald and her advisors were paid $590,000 for their work. She indicated that this number was approximately half of what she was owed. Other creditors owed money by the center ended up with nothing.

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