Facing more than $9 million in debt, a possible foreclosure and two proposals for solutions, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture’s fate rests in the hands of the legal system, and the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) is urging that the center be left for it's original purposes.
On Sept. 29 a trial will determine if the AWC has to uphold covenants that were set in place to protect the center when it was built just five years ago.
The covenants say that the center must be used for African American cultural events, which some say would go against the proposal by 980 Liberty Partners, a development group out of New York City, that wants to build a 200-room luxury hotel on top of the AWC. 980’s bid was the highest at $9.5 million and would pay off the center’s debt.
If Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O’Toole strikes down the original covenants, and the hotel bid goes through, the AWC will only operate in 45 percent of their existing space, using the rest of the center’s space for hotel activities.
“The serious reduction of the area to be used by AWC in the 980 proposal would be a frightening reality to many of us who have been so proud of the beauty of this wonderful and magnificent building," said B-PEP CEO Tim Stevens. "Under this proposal, the focus of the center’s facility absolutely becomes that of a hotel and not a center for African-American culture.”
Instead, B-PEP is urging for another proposal with uncertain plans on how to get the center out of debt, but the $5 million proposal is from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon Foundation and is supported by Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the URA. This plan would keep it as a community resource, but with a new business plan.
If nothing is done by Oct. 6, Dollar Bank will foreclose on the $9.5 million mortgage and the building will be put up for sheriff’s sale.
“The Dollar Bank, they have been wonderful, they have helped keep this building open and they have done a wonderful job with and for us," Stevens said. "But this is the moment, and Dollar Bank will stand. Dollar Bank will remain. Our question is will the August Wilson Center remain.”