August Wilson Center for African American Culture

A coalition of local foundations has made a proposal to purchase the bankrupt August Wilson Center for African American Culture and maintain its mission as a center for African-American arts and history.

Last week the Pittsburgh Foundation, leading a joint effort, submitted a bid to conservator Judith Fitzgerald, who is charged with selling the building and its assets to recoup nearly $10 million in debts.

John Ellis, vice president of communications for the Pittsburgh Foundation issued a prepared statement on the initiative Monday:

“The Pittsburgh Foundation is among a small group of local foundations that is developing a joint initiative in efforts to preserve the August Wilson Center and to safeguard its purpose as the preeminent community resource for African-American arts programming.

“As part of this initiative The Pittsburgh Foundation has submitted a joint bid on behalf of the foundation group to Conservator Judith Fitzgerald to purchase the August Wilson Center’s Downtown building. Separately, the foundations are examining ways to maintain funding support for local African-American arts programming.

“The foundation consortium’s primary objective is to explore opportunities to save the August Wilson Center in the hope that it may re-open and remain operating for the long-term, fulfilling its essential role as the community’s hub for African-American arts and culture.”

Ellis would not name any of the other parties, and told the New Pittsburgh Courier he could not say anything beyond what was in the statement.

Likewise, Fitzgerald has remained silent on the status of bids for the center. She had previously set a deadline of March 31, but last week issued a brief statement saying she was “continuing discussions with prospective buyers.”

Black Political Empowerment Project Founder Tim Stevens welcomed the news.

“I am extremely happy to hear the Pittsburgh Foundation and others have come to the front to say lets keep this facility funding,” he said. “It’s a wonderful demonstration of their commitment, and I hope the community appreciates that commitment to preserving African-American art and heritage.”

Fitzgerald said previously she wanted two months to review offers and work through any problems so she could close the sale by June 30.  After that date, Dollar Bank, which foreclosed on the center’s mortgage last year after it failed to make a single payment, is no longer obligated to pay utilities or maintenance expenses.

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