Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wilson Center: Deja Vu - or Something New?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wilson Center: Deja Vu - or Something New?

Article excerpt

The front page headline in Tuesday's Post-Gazette was four words I had not expected to see together: "August Wilson Center Rescued."

Whoa! How did that happen? The news broke Monday, just hours before a court hearing that might have forced the fate of the debt- ridden center. The consortium of local foundations, joined by the city and county governments, announced that its new and improved bid to buy the beleaguered institution had been accepted. It ended a nearly yearlong saga, prevailing over a proposal by 980 Liberty Partners, a New York-based real estate concern, to buy the building for $9.5 million.

The most likely outcome prior to Monday's breakthrough was that either 980 Liberty would win, paying off the $7.9 million debt to Dollar Bank and others, and building a 220-room luxury hotel on top of it - or the center would be sold at a fire sale to a buyer with no obligation to maintain its cultural identity.

A $8.49 million bid by the foundation groups, the lower bidders throughout the process, seemed the least likely outcome. Its previous bid had been $7.2 million, including around $2 million from the city and county.

For its trouble, 980 Liberty Partners agreed to take a $360,000 reimbursement fee to go away quietly. Even court-appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald and her two advisers took a 50 percent pay cut, settling for $590,000.

In the days that followed, no one in a position to know would declare where the foundation group's additional $1.29 million would come from. Heinz Endowments chief Grant Oliphant said flatly that his foundation wasn't putting up more money.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald speculated that either private individuals or corporations would step to the plate, the implication being that other than the $1 million previously pledged, that would be it. Still, the Allegheny Regional Asset District is sitting on $525,000 in previously withheld operating expenses for the center, a fairly nice chunk of change that will get things moving nicely toward a 2015 reopening.

The URA has also committed to kicking in $1.2 million toward the purchase. Meanwhile, a consortium of foundations has agreed to donate $4. …

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