Director sought to fix finances at August Wilson Center for African American Culture
Groups inside and outside the financially troubled August Wilson Center for African American Culture are scrambling to offer a candidate to steer the arts center out of foreclosure as the hours tick down to a court hearing on Monday.
The court is likely to appoint someone to replace Oliver Byrd, a member of the board of trustees who has been interim head since August 2012. Byrd did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Aaron Walton, chairman of the board of the Wilson Center, said his group spent countless hours in meetings in recent weeks working on the problem. Lawyers for the gleaming Downtown center, the state Attorney General's Office and Dollar Bank, the note holder that initiated foreclosure proceedings on the $40 million facility, have a common goal of saving the facility for the public, Walton said.
“I have never seen the level of cooperation we have had with the bank, the Orphan's Court and the attorney general,” he said.
A group of the center's founders — three of whom are nonvoting members of its board — is promoting a candidate who would work as director without pay to restructure and stave off foreclosure on the region's pre-eminent African-American arts center.
Former Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh Director Mulu Birru, who is leading the group, declined to identify its candidate. He described the candidate as a well-qualified individual who could restore the confidence of government and foundation leaders who have been key funders of the center but began withholding support as its financial woes worsened.
Birru's group petitioned to intervene in legal proceedings and hopes to have a seat at the table on Monday when lawyers for the center, the attorney general and the bank meet for a hearing with Common Pleas Court Judge Lawrence O'Toole. The judge delayed a hearing on the appointment of a receiver last week because Wilson Center lawyer Stanley Levine told him that the organization did not have the money to pay one.
Walton said the board discussed several candidates with the attorney general, the bank and the Orphans Court, which is overseeing proceedings.
“I think the court will choose who it thinks will be in the best interest of the community,” Walton said.
Dollar Bank lawyer Eric Schaffer was traveling on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
The hearing is the latest round in litigation that began when Dollar Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings in September, saying the center, named for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright from Pittsburgh, defaulted on its $7.06 million mortgage and allowed insurance on the facility to lapse.
The bank initially sought to oust the center's management, appoint a receiver and bar the center from seeking bankruptcy protection.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane joined the fray last month when she filed a petition seeking a full accounting of the Wilson Center's finances.
Kane, whose office oversees nonprofit organizations in Pennsylvania, noted that $17.4 million in public money went toward construction of the Downtown facility that opened in 2009.
Kane spokesman Joe Peters said officials with the Wilson Center have been cooperative, and he predicts the bank will delay foreclosure as long as that continues.
“All of the parties, our office, the trustees and the bank are continuing to talk and work cooperatively. The dialogue about appointing a receiver will continue, all in the interest of trying to keep the center open and in a better position,” Peters said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 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.
- 7 percent in Allegheny County able to carry concealed gun
- Mt. Lebanon puts temporary halt on deer kill
- Pittsburgh region’s philanthropic sector at top of nation’s pack
- Group reports ethnically charged comments in Moroccan taxi driver’s Hazelwood shooting
- School bus heavily damaged in Homewood fire
- Lane restrictions announced for portion of Route 28
- Merged United Way to reveal 5-year plan aimed at Western Pa. children
- Sports Deli is latest tenant to say goodbye to Parkway Center Mall
- Reliability of DNA evidence — vomit found near Mt. Oliver murder scene — doubted in trial
- Woman shot in shoulder during McKeesport fight
- Newsmaker: Debra A. Lewis