Is poor financial planning behind AWC’s current situation?

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ULISH CARTER

What good is a goal or vision or a dream without the capital to support it?

The August Wilson for African American Culture was a beautiful dream. It was a great idea. It was a magnificent vision. But did anyone even think about how much capital, funding, money it was going to take to build this beautiful building, as well as run it after it was built. Did they have any business people, accountants or just someone with some common sense as a part of the decision makers?

I’m finding it extremely hard to understand why the funding of this building was not dealt with before it was built.  It’s fundamental.  Before you buy a house, car, furniture of even clothes you must figure out how you are going to pay for it. Yes we all would like to have a Mercedes, Cadillac, or a $500,000 home with the swimming pool but before we go out and make the purchase we have to look at our income. Can I afford that $1500 plus mortgage, can I afford the $500 monthly car payment? If I can’t where does the money come from? One thing is always constant. If you can’t pay your bills the bank has no problem taking what you thought was yours, and you end up with nothing because you bit off more than you could chew. You should have settled for a less expensive car, or house.

Why wasn’t somebody dealing with this when the planning for the AWC began, before a single brick was laid?

It’s obvious none of this was done. You had a bunch of activists and idealists leading the charge for this beautiful building and others followed without a practical thought of where the money would come from?

The building was built to look good, but not be practical. The largest seating capacity is just 300 people. Now what can you possibly bring in that’s going to pay the mortgage, let alone utilities, and payroll with just 300 seats? Artists, musicians, actors, dancers all have to be paid; they have to eat just like everyone else. Then add to the low prices they were charging and all the free activities, it didn’t make sense.

Black people need to realize that just like we expect to be paid for our work so does everyone else. All this wanting something for nothing has to end. I understand that we in the urban communities don’t make as much money as most of our White counterparts in the suburbs, but we have money for alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and name brand clothes. Why aren’t we willing to pay for entertainment?

We have enough Black people making money to support a less expensive cultural center, but how many of us are into the arts? But even if a business mind had been brought in I don’t think anything could have saved the AWC, short of remodeling it on the inside to accommodate larger crowds, as well as maybe finding a way to get more businesses using it during the day. During the day it’s mostly vacant because people are at work, this way these small 300 people or less rooms would work for meetings. And maybe use the outer halls facing the streets with the glass fronts as a restaurant for the lunch crowd, with food being catered in, or install a kitchen. It’s a beautiful scenic area.

Unless someone comes up with a way for this building to pay for itself I can’t see anyone investing in it as it is now. Even if a foundation or some super rich person paid the mortgage it would be right back in debt in a year or two because they wouldn’t be making enough money to cover the expenses.

It has very little to do with bad management, the building was not designed to make money. It was designed to look pretty. It needs foundation sponsorship, but there’s no foundation I can see in sight willing to foot the bill.

Many people are blaming the Black community for their lack of support. It wouldn’t matter because even with Black support it would have failed. And why Downtown which is the most expensive place to build anything? And the parking is outrageous during the day and still expensive at night, compared to free parking outside of Downtown. That’s why people shop in the suburbs or in communities instead of Downtown.  

In the early days of the AWC there was no lack of great shows, and programs going on that received all the support the community could give based on the small areas provided. Music, dance, theater, community meetings, poetry, you name it. It was hard for this newspaper to cover it so much was going on. The programming was good, and the attendance was good. No there weren’t packed houses all the time, but even if there had been the problem would have occurred later instead of sooner.  

No this failure is not something we can pin on the Black community for the lack of support to a Black establishment. This blame falls squarely on the people who planned the design of this building, with no idea of how they were going to pay for it. It sounds and appears like they allowed artists to make all the decisions, with no input from the finance department.

(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

 

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