August Wilson Center rescue money proposed by Allegheny County councilman
By Tony LaRussa
Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, 10:07 p.m.
The chairman of Allegheny County Council's budget and finance committee plans to devote as much as $4 million in public money during the next several years to a “concerted effort” to rescue the financially troubled August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
“Saving the August Wilson Center is in everybody's best interest, not only here, but throughout the commonwealth,” county Councilman William Robinson said during a news conference on Friday in front of the childhood home of August Wilson in the Hill District.
“It is worthy of concentrated attention on the part of those who want to make sure Pittsburgh remains a cultural center in Pennsylvania,” Robinson said.
Wilson lived in an apartment in the 1700 block of Bedford Avenue in the Hill, which served as the setting for many of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's works. Robinson said public money should be used to restore the dilapidated building for use as a residence for artists.
The August Wilson Center in Downtown, which has received nearly $13 million in public subsidies, faces possible foreclosure because it is $7.06 million in default on its mortgage. The center ended the 2012-13 fiscal year with a $1.8 million deficit.
The Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly called the news conference to emphasize the importance of the August Wilson Center's survival.
“One of the things we need to highlight is the challenge that the August Wilson Center presents,” Robinson said. “We believe it should be at the top, or near the top, of a black agenda.”
The Rev. Thomas Smith, who is one of the assembly's founders, said there is a “need for a collaborative effort on the part of the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and (the) Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to ensure its survival.”
Robinson, D-Hill District, said an initial $500,000 will be placed in the county's 2014 capital budget, which can be used only for construction, repairs and maintenance , not operations or mortgage payments.
The Wilson Center then would be free to use other funds elsewhere, the councilman said.
Even if council passes a budget with money for the center, the county charter gives the chief executive the power to eliminate the line item before signing a final budget.
Amie Downs, spokeswoman for county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, said the proper channel for cultural groups to get public funding is through the Allegheny County Regional Asset District.
Last month, the RAD board tentatively denied the center's request for $425,000 for 2014 as a result of an audit that questioned, among other things, whether it will be able to continue operating.
Wilson Center officials could not be reached for comment.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or email@example.com.
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