August Wilson Center's financials delay rescue, wait for plan
By Bill Zlatos
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Foundation and government money — the financial ballast that has helped keep the sailboat-shaped August Wilson Center for African American Culture afloat — may dry up until center officials provide a 2012 audit and business plan.
“We can't do any more grantmaking without the basic financial information on the state of the center and a reliable plan for it to move forward,” Doug Root, spokesman for The Heinz Endowments, told the Tribune-Review on Monday.
The center on Friday laid off eight to 10 of its 20 or so employees and is lagging behind on payments on its $7 million loan, center officials confirmed.
“We're in the process of completing our audits and have them all appropriately filed,” said Oliver Byrd, the center's interim president and CEO. “If someone is requesting the most recent, that would have an implication for funding.”
He said he hopes the layoffs, which targeted areas such as reception, greeters, the box office, marketing and programming, will last just a few months.
Heinz gave $9 million out of about $20 million that local foundations awarded for the construction and operation of the center on Liberty Avenue in Downtown.
Root said Heinz's stance on grants requiring an updated audit is the same Heinz would take with other applicants.
Officials with The Pittsburgh Foundation, which has given the center $3.1 million since 2001, agree.
“We could not even consider funding at this point because we have not had the requisite financial data or audit that are required for any grant,” said Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of the foundation.
David Donahoe, executive director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, said he discussed the lack of an audit with Byrd about a week ago.
RAD, which supports libraries, parks, stadiums and cultural groups with half the proceeds of an added 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County, recently adopted a policy that requires applicants to send an audit within nine months of the end of their fiscal year.
If they miss the deadline, RAD may give them another month. After that, Donahoe said, organizations are out of compliance and would not be eligible to apply for a grant.
Named after the Hill District native and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, the center opened in 2009, but has been the subject of controversy since backers conceived it. Community members debated the proper neighborhood for the building and whether the center should be independent or part of another organization.
The board went ahead with construction, although it had not raised all the money. As a result, it was forced to borrow to finish the building, a move that left it with less money for operations. It restructured an $11.2 million construction debt, reducing that to $7 million in January after receiving some foundation grants.
Donahoe said the center is too reliant on contributions and doesn't earn enough money from ticket sales and facility rentals. He said RAD expects 25 percent to 40 percent of a venue's income to come from such sources, but just 13 percent of the Wilson Center's did in fiscal 2011, according to RAD documents.
J. Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, said it is not unusual for new arts groups like the Wilson Center to experience “growing pains.”
He cited the Miami Performing Arts Center and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia as examples of groups that experienced financial problems when they opened but went on to flourish.
“I certainly don't think this means we'll see the end of the August Wilson Center at all, but they certainly do have some real challenges ahead of them,” he said.
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
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.
- Baldwin-Whitehall board hits ‘magical line of dissatisfaction’
- Police say fellow cop arrested for drunk driving after coming to work intoxicated
- Projected drilling revenue use at issue for county, union