With a favorable engineering report in hand and having anted up a $50,000 down payment, it appears that New York-based 980 Liberty Partners is well on the way to fulfilling Judge Lawrence O’Toole’s requirements that its plan to build a luxury hotel above the August Wilson Center is feasible and that they “show him the money” before he finally allows them to buy the bankrupt center for $9.5 million.
However, there is still the matter of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny Count Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority all preferring that a consortium of local foundations take over the center at a much lower sale price.
All three managed last week to find an additional $2.4 million with which to augment the foundations’ bid, bringing it to $7.2 million. The foundations have referred to it as a back-up plan, in the event that the 980 Liberty Partners sale falls through.
The URA will try to make that happen at a July 16 hearing before O’Toole by arguing that covenants in the original deed agreement prevent the center being used as anything other than a Black cultural arts center.
980 Liberty Partners said it would let the center operate an independent entity, and would have use of the gallery and office space for free. It would also get to use the theater space for 120 days a year.
Mortgage holder Dollar Bank, which is owed nearly $8 million, will argue that the URA waived any covenant restrictions when it previously executed an “intercreditor agreement.”
Receiver Judith Fitzgerald, herself a former bankruptcy judge who has been charged with selling the center while maintaining its primary mission, said she does not think the covenants are enforceable.
It is unlikely that O’Toole would rule immediately after hearing the arguments, but not impossible. He has previously referred to the covenants as “an open wound.”
Similarly, URA board member state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, referred to the Wilson Center fight as a “bottomless pit” when he cast the lone vote against the authority allocating $1.4 million toward the foundations’ bid and up to $60,000 for attorneys to fight the sale.
The hearing is schedule for 9:30 a.m. July 16 in O’Toole’s chambers, 1700 Frick Building.
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