Essential Pittsburgh
4:41 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

An Update on the August Wilson Center: The URA Strikes Back

Credit Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

The battle for the future of the August Wilson Center has been a long and contentious one, but its a struggle that appears to be a ways off from its conclusion.

The building, named after the famous Pittsburgh playwright and dedicated to the celebration of African American culture, has been in trouble ever since it was completed in 2009. The building is valued at $40 million, and was put up for sale earlier this year.

New York developer 980 Liberty Partners has proposed converting the building, at least partially, into a hotel, and has the resources to purchase the center.

They face fierce opposition from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, who is trying to block the sale of the building by any means. Tribune-Review reporter Natasha Lindstrom stopped by to update us on the continuing saga.

“On one side, the hotel developer, their plan is also supported by the court-appointed receiver charged with resolving the center's debts, they argue it could be a win-win. They want to develop this hotel, they say it could be a great economic benefit for the city.” Lindstrom said.

“They also want to provide space for the August Wilson Center as a nonprofit entity to continue operating. They want to continue allowing it use of the performing arts theater and they’re really open to negotiation on how much of the center could remain.”

But the URA, which is also supported by the state attorney general’s office, Mayor Peduto, and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, refuses to budge.

“They're arguing that that plan goes against deed covenants that run with the land, that limits the centers use to a black cultural arts center. That’s one of the really hotly disputed issues in court right now. Another hand is, they say that this is a public asset, it was built with $17.4 million dollars in taxpayer money alone, and they’re just really concerned about it existing long term, and they just don't see it happening under the developer’s plan.”