AG Kane responds to pleas for help on August Wilson Center



Last month, as part of an effort to do anything and everything to save the August Wilson Center for African American Culture from foreclosure, several Black political leaders wrote to Attorney General Kathleen Kane for assistance.

Last week, her office responded with an announcement that it would audit the organization and “compel the August Wilson Center for African American Culture to account for the administration of its charitable assets from 2006 to the present.”

The center is currently involved in foreclosure proceedings brought by Dollar Bank, following the center’s failure to make payments on a $7 million construction loan debt.

The letter signed by state Reps. Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley, Allegheny County Council Members Bill Robinson and Amanda Green Hawkins, and Pittsburgh Councilmen Danny Lavelle and Rev. Ricky Burgess, requested Kane’s assistance citing her office’s oversight authority of charitable organizations.

“Our constituents are alarmed at the potential loss of this community asset, and the total lack of information provided by the center and the bank,” they wrote. “Since it is the Office of the Attorney General which has general oversight concerning public charities, we appeal to you to use your office to assure that if the center can be saved, that such will be done.”

Whether or not the audit will do that remains to be seen. Communications Director Joe Peters said the office also filed a motion to consolidate the foreclosure and the audit, which was granted by Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O’Toole but added the audit would not automatically stop the foreclosure action.

“All the parties worked together on the consolidation, so we would hope Dollar Bank would delay its action, but nothing specifically prevents that,” said Peters. “This is a step in the direction of resolving all those (financial and management) issues. To begin attracting new investors, they need to know that there is stability and a positive road ahead.”

Peters said that while such an intervention is unusual, it is not unheard of, noting the office had intervened to have the trustees of Conneaut Lake Park Inc. removed after the trust had lost the park’s Dreamland Ballroom and Breach Club to a fire, and failed to carry fire insurance.

“We are not currently asking for that (with respect to the Wilson Center board),” he said. “The attorney general is committed to preserving this important cultural asset.”

In its initial foreclosure filing, however, Dollar Bank asked the court to appoint the Baker Young Corporation as a receiver to maintain the property, in part, because it has failed to maintain the property and to provide adequate insurance for it.

Robinson, who introduced legislation last month to have the center funded by the county, but said on KQV Radio Nov. 2 that any such funding should wait until the legal process plays out.

“Once a decision is made within the courts, then I believe it is Council’s place to be involved in a plan to give the August Wilson Center the best possible chance of survival,” he said.

In their letter, however, Robinson and the others said any new repayment plan would not succeed:

”Any refinancing plans will only throw the center back into the same catastrophic situation since there are no dedicated sources of revenue to pay another mortgage.”

Center board member Sala Udin, who also served as interim co-director with Oliver Byrd for a time beginning in 2011, said, he and the others did not expect the AG’s office to prevent the foreclosure action, and that as he understands it, audits are customary in these instances.

“So, we have no problem with such an audit. The Center has clean audits dating all the way back to its beginning,” he said. “In fact, having the AG examine our audits could turn out to be a good thing for the Center because they will find no mismanagement of funds.”
Peters said there is no timeline for the audit.

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