Wilson Center sales agreement would limit use of theater, office space
If a New York developer buys the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the nonprofit would have access to its theater for at least a third of the year but be given limited space for operations, according to a sales agreement filed on Wednesday.
The agreement, signed on May 27 by Judith K. Fitzgerald, the center's court-appointed receiver, and Matthew Shollar, a local representative of 980 Liberty Partners, details for the first time how the debt-ridden nonprofit arts center would function after the sale and what obligations 980 would have to keep the center under its roof.
“If we're going to end up with gallery space that's named for August Wilson in a hotel lobby, that's not what the community invested in,” Janera Solomon, a member of the August Wilson Center Recovery Committee and executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, told the Tribune-Review last week.
Although 980 agreed in principle to buy the building for $9.5 million, the company has 60 days from May 27 to conduct engineering and architectural studies to determine whether building a 200-room hotel on top is feasible. If not, Shollar has said, his company will back out of the deal. Neither he nor Fitzgerald could be reached for comment after the agreement was filed.
In addition to leasing the theater to a reorganized August Wilson Center for at least 120 days a year, for $1 per ticket sold, the sales agreement requires 980 to establish a first-floor gallery/exhibition space to allow daytime public access and provide “limited space within the building” for administrative offices and gallery storage.
Critics of 980's proposal — including Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and three foundations — question whether the developer would keep the mission of the cultural center at the forefront.
Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty declined comment. Fitzgerald said his desire for more community involvement hasn't changed.
“At this point, I think it would be a huge mistake if this were allowed to go through,” he said. “I think there are too many unanswered questions.”
The $40 million center named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hill District playwright was built with $17.4 million in taxpayer money.
The city's Urban Redevelopment Authority and state attorney general's office oppose the 980 plan, citing concern about investors violating deed covenants that the URA says limit use of the building to a nonprofit black cultural center.
If the sale is finalized, the cultural center would lease space for five years. It would have the option of renewing four more times, at five years each. During the 60-day due-diligence period, 980 Liberty Partners must secure financing for the proposed hotel and within 30 days provide a $50,000 deposit toward the sale.
The agreement gives the center's receiver the right to continue discussions to obtain a “back-up bidder” in case the sale falls through.
A consortium of nonprofits led by The Pittsburgh Foundation initially submitted a $4 million bid but withdrew when 980 outbid it. The nonprofits recently upped their offer to $5 million.
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer.
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.