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Wilson Center receiver criticizes redevelopment authority

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

The Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority's support of a $4 million withdrawn bid on the debt-ridden August Wilson Center for African American Culture is contrary to its own mission to generate jobs, expand the city's tax base and improve Downtown, the center's court-appointed receiver said in court documents filed on Friday.

The $9.5 million bid from 980 Liberty Partners of New York is a “win-win” for the August Wilson Center and the city, receiver Judith K. Fitzgerald said. The proposal includes a hotel and space for a black cultural center.

The URA's website states the authority “encourages and directs private investment in business and business facilities in Pittsburgh,” said Fitzgerald, a former bankruptcy judge.

Gigi Saladna, a spokeswoman for the URA, declined to comment because of the pending litigation. Kevin Acklin, URA board chair and chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto, did not return calls or respond to a text message. Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald oppose selling to 980 Liberty Partners.

The URA and state Attorney General's Office argue the building's recorded deed restricts its use to a black cultural center until June 2021. Judith Fitzgerald said nothing in the deed or other documents says the property must be used solely as a cultural center.

Common Pleas Judge Lawrence J. O'Toole has scheduled a status conference in the case for Wednesday.

Two other commercial enterprises bid $3.25 million and $4.5 million for the building and its liquor license. Their identities have not been disclosed. A coalition of foundations submitted the $4 million bid but withdrew it when the receiver expressed her support for the Liberty Partners offer.

The Downtown center, named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright from the Hill District, is about $10 million in debt. The largest creditor, Dollar Bank, is owed about $7.7 million. The bank sought to foreclose on the center last year when it failed to make mortgage and insurance payments.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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