The creditors of the August Wilson Center have taken next to the final step of what most of us have known for years in the African American community, and that is it will be put up for sale. The final step will be its sale.
We not only knew it was in serious financial trouble for years, but if something wasn’t done to correct this sinking ship it was going to go under. Yet, nobody stepped forward with a plan backed with money, which has led to the tragedy that now has some people suggesting that Dollar Bank and Judith Fitzgerald, the conservator, are the villains.
In one letter we received, the person implied that Fitzgerald shouldn’t be making as much money as she is and that she shouldn’t get a percentage of the selling price, that it is a conflict of interest. It sounds like these people are asking Dollar Bank to give the Black Arts community the $10 million needed to pay the mortgage and then someone else foot the bill of operating the building, instead of placing the blame where it belongs, the board.
Many are asking Dollar Bank, to wait even longer for their money, which thus far no one is offering. Thus far no one has even offered a plan that demonstrates how he or she would pay for the day-to-day operations even if they did get the mortgage paid.
Dollar Bank has been more than patient. Remember, before the foreclosure was announced they refinanced the building giving management an opportunity to pay them at a lower rate, yet not one single payment was made, according to the bank, yet no one challenged management.
There are a few people out there now howling for the building to be saved, and some are trying to point fingers at the financial institution that gave the loan to build this beautiful building instead of taking a good close look at themselves.
Yes, we the Black community is partly at fault for the failure of the building. First of all we are at fault by not holding those in power, mostly the board, accountable. And second, we are at fault by not supporting the numerous programs staged at this venue. It’s time we stopped expecting everything to be free or near free. Tickets for $15 to $20 is a give away and unless there are underwriters for the events, nothing should be held that doesn’t pay for itself.
Many of us felt like the AWC belonged to the Black community and that they should “give back to the community” instead of us giving to it so it could continue to employ a predominantly African-American staff; that it could continue to have predominately African-American events. But instead how many of us supported the events that cost over $20? I think that each and every one of us should ask ourselves how many events did we pay to attend? And how many of us who could have held an event or meeting there, didn’t?
I think that some of the accusations being made toward the bank and Fitzgerald are cheap shots after the fact. It’s over. We had our chance and we failed. And instead of placing the blame where it lies, we are trying to point at the White man, and in this case the White woman as the villain, when the fault lies clearly at the feet of the board and the original planners who as I stated before, didn’t bother to bring successful business people to the table to make sure this extremely important African-American venture was a success; even if they weren’t Black business people.
One thing I do fault Dollar Bank in is that they did not demand this before they put up the money. Why didn’t they check into the backgrounds of the people proposing this center and demand that they include business people who could present a viable economic plan?
One suggestion has been that the Pittsburgh Public School System purchases the building and makes it an extension of CAPA. The first question that comes to mind is how can PPS afford it when they are struggling to pay their own bills? Well since all students from outside of the city pay big bucks to go there, simply open up more slots for suburban students which may just pay for its self. May is the word.
Like just about everyone else, I wanted this thing to work. I remember I was so proud when the AWC opened for business. We had an editorial board meeting with the then head and his key staff about working together to make sure the Black communities knew exactly what was going on at the center and when. He even had a column in the paper. It was so beautiful for maybe over a year. Then things began to fall apart. People getting laid off, and instead of being replaced their work was passed on to others who were already overloaded, then these people were let go for outside contractors, who were eventually let go with little to no information of what was going on at the center.
So anyone reading the Courier should have known about the problems because we not only wrote stories, I addressed it in my column. But no one stepped forward. Now it’s too little too late. But then again miracles have happened before.
(Ulish Carter is the managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier.)