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Wilson Center mistakes

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The “Diligence lacking” item in “Tuesday takes” questioned whether the August Wilson Center “ever should ever been built.” The answer is simple.

In 1996, the Heinz History Center opened. The following year, the NAACP held its national conference in Pittsburgh and planted the thought of creating a black history center. Was this idea too much in excess? Or maybe the Heinz History Center failed to adequately represent the black community, creating the desire for its own?

Then politics engaged; $17.4 million in public funding resulted in property acquisition, construction and operation costs. The fiscal plan was doomed to fail. The center's appeal was focused on just 13.4 percent of Allegheny County's population, composed of blacks, and a percentage of that segment that would support the facility on a regular basis. The figures didn't add up.

Allegheny County Councilman William Robinson said saving the center “is in everybody's best interest.” But that would take more public money he was trying to earmark.

Conservator Judith Fitzgerald, former U.S. bankruptcy judge, recommended liquidation. She also made the plea, “I will listen to any and all reasonable proposals ... to keep the center here.”

I made a similar plea two years ago. I suggested that County Council and Robinson merge the two history centers under the Civic Arena dome. The collaboration would have boosted shared attendance, expanded exhibit capacity, returned two properties to the tax rolls and placed the August Wilson Center in the heart of the lower Hill District, where black history took place. All these points fell on deaf ears and government continues to repeat the mistakes of the past, destroying history and building boondoggles at our expense.

Gary J. English

Penn Hills

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