Closing its doors

November 3, 2014;Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Doesn’t this story sound heartbreaking? The August Wilson Center, an African-American arts and culture center in downtown Pittsburgh, is for all intents and purposes no longer—at least for the moment. The bank that held the Center’s $7.9 million delinquent mortgage purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale for $1,912.50—essentially the taxes owed and the costs of the public auction.

A plan to sell the center to three local foundations—the Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation—was stalled despite the effort of the court-appointed conservator of the bankrupt center to sell to the foundations for $8.49 million. The delay was a claim by the firm that provided security for the center that it was owed $200,000. Although the principals of the foundations and the bank were unable to speak for the record, it appears that the deal to sell to the foundations is still in the works. However, more changes than simply clearing all of the existing debts will be needed. The operations of the center were a consistently losing proposition, though reports indicate that the center’s fiscal management might have been significantly substandard.

The foundations may well succeed in rescuing the August Wilson Center from Dollar Bank, but will they rescue and resuscitate the operations of the Center so that it remains a going concern on African American art and culture?—Rick Cohen