Wilson Center audit nearly done, RAD informed

| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

An overdue audit of the financially strapped August Wilson Center is expected next week, potentially allowing millions of dollars to be released to the arts center named for the Pittsburgh native and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

The Allegheny Regional Asset District told the Downtown center's top administrator on Thursday that it wants to help, but needs the audit and other financial information before it can give the center any taxpayer money.

“I'll be honest. We have a fiduciary duty,” said Dusty Elias Kirk, vice chairwoman of RAD's board.

RAD conducted a hearing on the center's request for $425,000 in funding for 2014. That's a 42 percent increase from the $300,000 the center is set to receive this year.

RAD supports parks, libraries, stadiums and cultural groups with half of the proceeds of an additional 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County.

“We expect a new, complete audit Thursday of next week,” said Oliver Byrd, the Wilson center's interim president and CEO.

That's an important step because RAD and foundations have rules preventing them from giving money to groups without a current audit. RAD requires an audit within nine months of the end of the fiscal year — in this case that would have been March, making the center about five months overdue.

In May, Byrd said the center was in the process of completing the audit. The center's funding application said the audit was in its second draft review.

In an email, Gigi Saladna, spokeswoman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, wrote that it has withheld more than $1.4 million of a $2 million loan for the center, pending the audit.

Kirk questioned how realistic the center's 2014 budget is. At $2.9 million, it's more than double the $1.4 million spending plan for 2013.

The budget counts on government contributions from outside RAD growing from $10,244 for fiscal 2013 to $750,000 for 2014.

“We're going after federal dollars,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the center will do more to promote and commemorate its namesake, who grew up in the Hill District and died in 2005 in Seattle.

One difficulty, he said, is the center's absence of a permanent leader.

“It will not achieve its goals with an interim (president) in place. It will not be me. I'm going back into retirement,” Byrd said.

He said the center will need to give the new president a three-year contract with a salary at national scale, but not as much as in the past.

André Kimo Guess Stone, the previous president and CEO, earned $141,050 in total compensation in 2011.

The center opened in 2009 to diversify the cultural offerings in the city, but it has been plagued by financial problems.

It has $7.1 million in debt because it did not raise enough money to cover construction costs. The center lost $1.8 million last year — more than twice the money it brought in.

RAD board Chairman Daniel J. Griffin cited a significant downward trend for the Wilson Center: 795 people donating $659,277 to the center in fiscal 2010 compared with 179 people giving $72,617 last year.

In addition, 30 Wilson board members gave $36,210 in fiscal 2010, compared with just nine donating $4,550 last year.

“You got to get those numbers up,” he said. “We realize you came in a crisis situation, but I'd like to see some kind of plan.”

Byrd said one unidentified board member pledged $25,000 in the previous 24 hours and that the board has added members, increasing the opportunity for giving.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for TribTotal Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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