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Pittsburgh Cultural Trust leads applicants seeking increase in RAD money

| Monday, July 21, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A Cultural District banner hangs on a lamppost along the strip of galleries, restaurants and theaters in Downtown. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is one of many cultural and recreational groups seeking an increase in funding.

More than 100 cultural and recreational groups are asking for $102.1 million in county money for next year, and some mid-size or big groups such as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust are seeking double-digit increases from this year.

The trust's $1.3 million application for Regional Asset District money represents an increase of $300,000, or 30 percent, according to documents released on Monday. That's the highest dollar increase for operations among groups that ask for RAD money every year without a guarantee of funding.

With RAD funding, the trust would “continue to increase accessibility efforts in its programming and within trust venues, as well as expand free and low-cost programs targeted to special audiences,” said J. Kevin McMahon, its president and CEO.

Trust programs bring millions of people and tens of millions of dollars of direct spending to the Pittsburgh region, he said.

RAD records show that 106 groups sought the tax dollars for their 2015 daily operations and maintenance, repairs and the purchase of equipment. That compares with 104 groups asking for $102.5 million for 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.

“I thought it would be about the same as prior years, and it was,” said David Donahoe, executive director of RAD. “Last year, the August Wilson Center was included. If you added that back in, the number would be virtually the same.”

RAD last year withheld the August Wilson Center's $300,000 grant for 2014 and $225,000 of its 2013 grant because of its failure to file an audit and subsequent concerns about its finances. A court-appointed receiver is recommending that an Allegheny County judge approve a $9.5 million offer from 980 Liberty Partners to buy the center. The center's mortgage-holder, Dollar Bank, set an Oct. 6 foreclosure date.

The Pittsburgh Opera asked RAD for $250,000, an increase of $105,000, or 72 percent, over this year.

“We feel our range of activity and educational outreach is so extensive, we respectfully request that they consider additional funding,” said Christopher Hahn, general director of the opera.

Nine groups that are guaranteed some level of money from RAD over five years, called “contractual assets,” asked for $65.1 million for daily operations. As is the norm, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh topped the list.

The Carnegie Library seeks $20.1 million for its operations, up 3 percent, and more than $3 million for the digital infrastructure for city and county libraries that allows patrons to check online books that are available and to reserve them.

If the trend holds, RAD may have a little more money than it had for this year's requests. Donahoe said tax collections through June are $44.1 million, or 3.3 percent ahead of the same period last year.

“In the last few months, car sales seem to have taken off,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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