ARAD Votes To Help Fund August Wilson Center Purchase, Looks Ahead To 2015 Grants

Oct 28, 2014

A new roof for City Theatre Company on the South Side, lighting for the baseball field at Boyce Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair and an updated heating and air conditioning system for the Mattress Factory museum on the North Side.

These are just a few of the dozens of projects the Allegheny Regional Asset District is planning to fund in 2015.

The ARAD board met Monday afternoon to consider the proposed $93.7 million budget, up from $91.2 million in 2014, and to hear public comment.

Half of the 1 percent Allegheny County sales tax goes to fund ARAD. The other half is split between municipalities and the county itself.

ARAD revenues have been steadily rising since it was created in 1995. That year, revenues were just over $50 million. 2014 revenues were at $87 million and 2015 projections are closer to $90 million. The remainder of the 2015 budget proposal comes from interest and reserves.

County libraries are slated for an $891,000 increase in support, bringing the total RAD contribution to $23 million. $3 million of that will go toward the Electronic Information Network which links county library catalogs.

The budget proposes $5.3 million in operating costs for City of Pittsburgh regional parks, including Frick, Highland, Riverview, Schenley and Emerald View. $900,000 is set aside for capital projects including playground renovations and accessibility enhancements.

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium will receive $3.6 million for operating costs and $450,000 for capital projects. The National Aviary: $1.2 million for operating and $340,000 for capital. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: $2.3 for operating and $300,000 for capital.

Additionally, ARAD proposes distributing $14.2 million to the Sports and Exhibition Authority for debt services on bonds issued to support PNC Park, Heinz Field, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, and the now demolished Civic Arena.

ARAD Executive Director David Donahoe said they received well over $100 million in funding requests, but were unable to fulfill them all, adding that there are four criteria upon which the board bases its decisions.

“We look at the management and governance of an organization, whether they’re well-run,” Donahoe said. “We look at the programming they do, to make sure the public can participate in the programming. We look at diversity to make sure the organization pays attention to have a diverse workforce, board, and outreaches to the whole community, and finally we look at accessibility and inclusion efforts that an asset makes.”

Most of the public comment came from representatives of organizations that had applied for funding but whose full funding request was not reflected in the preliminary budget.

Board members were also prepared to hear from the public about a $1.5 million funding request from Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority for purchase of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, but no members of the public came to speak.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation together will pick up $5.7 million of the $8.49 million purchase price, and the URA has promised $1.29 million.

Donahoe said the proposal spelled out three different sources of the ARAD funds: $225,000 from a suspended 2013 operating grant to the center, $300,000 from an undesignated contingency line item from the 2014 budget, and an increase to the 2014 budget of $975,000.

Carolyn Duronio, legal counsel for the foundations, said they would be touring the building on Wednesday. She said they had developed a three-year $4.5 million budget to get the center back up and running, and that future programming would be run by a separate organization.

“The goal is over those three years to be able to get the building up to where it would have the normal subsidy of any arts organization,” Duronio said.

The board approved the expenditure in a 6-0 vote, with one recusal from board chair Dusty Kirk, whose law firm also employs Duronio.

“The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the operating arm of the Cultural District, which has a solid record of balanced budgets and accountability, will now be linked directly with the management of the new Wilson Center, while it gets up and running with foundation support for operating funds,” said ARAD vice chair Dan Griffin ahead of the vote. “This gives me confidence that we will be giving the new August Wilson Center the opportunity to succeed.”

However, Griffin did express reservations about the foundations’ plan to develop a separate organization that would actually program the facility.

“I am … concerned that a separate organization is being considered to do the programming at the center, and until I see that this is a workable and accountable model, I am not inclined to support additional public dollars for operation, until I see a solid board and a business plan,” Griffin said.