Every now and again, we like to update you on some currently active crowdfunding campaigns around town. Here's what's going on right now:
— The Pittsburgh Public Market is in the final days of a Kickstarter drive to raise the remaining $10,000 needed to finish construction of a $600,000 commercial-grade kitchen, which culinary entrepreneurs can rent hourly. You can read more about the fund drive — which ends Thu., July 31 — in tomorrow's City Paper. Donor rewards include brunches and cooking classes.
— The folks behind PittPunk.com are crowdfunding a Punk Rock Prom — basically a dance, on a boat, for adults. But also for people under 21. With punk rock. Who doesn't like dancing on a boat?!
— Some folks are raising money to start a local Greek yogurt business: Naturi would use organic milk from grass-fed cows. You probably won't see John Stamos at the launch party, but it still sounds pretty tasty.
In a letter to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lawrence O'Toole, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald today called for the removal of Judith Fitzgerald as receiver of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
"It is our opinion that Receiver Fitzgerald does not maintain as her highest priority the public interest of preserving the mission of the Center as a public asset," the letter says. (Full text of the letter is available here.)
Judith Fitzgerald was appointed as conservator last year after Dollar Bank, who holds the center's $7 million mortgage foreclosed on the center. After coming up short in her search to find alternative funding streams to sustain the center, she moved to liquidate the center's assets and sell it.
Last week, Judith Fitzgerald announced she had received four bids on the center.
Peduto and Rich Fitzgerald support a $4 million bid from three foundations to purchase the center, but Judith Fitzgerald has said she would move to accept a higher bid of $9 million from a commercial company looking to build a hotel on top of the center. As a result, yesterday, the foundations announced they were withdrawing their bid and would instead look for other ways to facilitate African-American programming.
"We're at a point where we've lost the foundations," Peduto says. "They finally, out of frustration, walked out."
However, Peduto believes the foundations would come back to the table if Judith Fitzgerald was removed as conservator. He said she has been unwilling to work with them. (A call to the Pittsburgh Foundation, who led the rival bid, was not returned immediately.)
"Throughout the process, conservator Fitzgerald has said her mission is to make the creditors whole," Peduto says.
Dollar Bank's mortgage accounts for $7 million of the center's estimated $10 million in debt. And while Dollar Bank is the largest creditor, "What about the $30-plus-million that the city, the county, and the state have invested?" Peduto asks. A portion of the remaining debt belongs to the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which Peduto says gives government officials a stake that could be leveraged. So far, though, "We've been trying to do this diplomatically."
Rich Fitzgerald, who spoke with City Paper by phone this evening, said he and Peduto sent the letter because "We felt we had to make a real statement." Fitzgerald said that he and members of his administration have previously spoken to Judith Fitzgerald (who is no relation to the executive): "We had what I would call frank discussions," he said, while declining to discuss specifics. But despite those conversations, "This isn't going in the right direction."
The county executive acknowledges that he's unsure what impact the letter will have on the legal proceedings, or how much leeway O'Toole has to consider factors other than price. "We're all in uncharted waters here for a lot of reasons," he says. Partly that's because government officials don't even know who the bidder is yet. "If this is such a good deal, why aren't the principals going public?" Fitzgerald asks. The anonymity of the bidder "should raise red flags with everybody."
At least one expert says the court is not obliged to simply accept the highest bid. "They can accept whatever bid they want," says John Pottow, a bankruptcy expert and law professor at the University of Michigan. "They have a fiduciary duty to take the best bid, but 'best' isn't just price."
And Rich Fitzgerald says that no matter who ends up controlling the center, "There's going to need to be a need for community support" for the future owner. O'Toole's decision won't take place in a vacuum, he says, since any new development on the site might require zoning approval or other government intervention.
Even so, Dollar Bank has leverage too. If the court accepts a bid of less than the $7 million mortgage, the bank can simply acquire the building to collect on the loan.
"I don't see how that benefits Dollar Bank," Peduto says (though Fitzgerald also cautions that "we shouldn't demonize Dollar Bank here").
Throughout the process, Peduto and Rich Fitzgerald have said they'd like to see the Wilson Center to continue its focus on African-American culture. Their letter to the judge is the first public action they've taken. If Judith Fitzgerald is removed as receiver, Peduto says the bidding process would not have to start over.
"We've been at this for four months and we've been meeting with all the stakeholders," Peduto says.
We'll have more details as they become available.
Chris Potter contributed to this report.
While springtime symbolizes a time of rebirth, in Pittsburgh and other cities, warmer weather also typically means an increase in homicides. At a rally at his church in the Hill District today, Rev. Glenn Grayson highlighted Pittsburgh's increased homicide rate throughout the summer months as he held up newspaper clippings of articles reporting gun related deaths.
Grayson was one of a dozen activists at a rally calling for gun-control legislation. In Pennsylvania, the state House is considering HB 1010, a bill that will tighten up background-check requirements on rifle or shotgun sales. Currently, state law requires handgun sales to be carried out by a licensed firearms dealer, who must conduct a background check on the buyer. But the law exempts sales of long guns, which can be sold privately without such a check.
"I challenge the community to partner with us as we try to close this loophole," Grayson said.
"Unfortunately, I think the reverend's going to be at the funeral home again this summer," said City Councilor Dan Gilman, another supporter of the legislation who attended the rally. "And although we don't want to go to another funeral, we know we're going to, because government isn't taking action."
According to the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, between 2007 to 2011 long guns were used in 6.2 percent of Pennsylvania gun homicides in which the gun type is known. Long guns were also used in the mass shootings in Newtown and Aurora.
"If we're honest, when we hear another shooting in the news, we're not shocked," said Tim Stevens, co-convener of the Coalition Against Violence. "This bill is one tool of many that are needed to begin to cease the violence."
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the government's failure to pass federal legislation requiring universal background checks on all gun sales. According to a January 2013 Gallup poll, 91 percent of Americans support universal background checks.
"We all know that keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them is the first step," said Rob Conroy from CeaseFirePA, the gun-control advocacy group who hosted today's rally.
Hill District residents are, once again, battling with Pittsburgh Penguins management and developers of the former Civic Arena site -- this time over the amount of affordable housing proposed for the lower Hill District development.
The community wants 30 percent of the residential development to be affordable housing, but at a Nov. 21 community meeting, the plan unveiled by developer McCormack Baron Salazar only included 20 percent.
The plan could be taken to the City Planning Commission as early as next week: The meeting, organized by the Penguins, was meant to show the community what that proposal will look like.
“If this is going to be successful we’re going to need to work with the community,” said Travis Williams, chief operating officer for the Penguins.
But the presentation came to a halt when residents complained the presentation was taking too long and not addressing their concerns.
“It seems like you’re slow-walking us through this presentation, but you’re taking your plan to the planning commission next week,” said Carl Redwood from the Hill District Consensus Group.
As snow began to fall earlier today, nearly 100 Rivers Casino employees marched from the Carnegie Science Center to their place of employment on the North Shore. The employees have been trying to start a union at the casino since April but claim they are being met with anti-union intimidation from management.
“I think what we’ve been doing the past seven months is showing them we have the power and we’re going to make the changes,” said Meredith Maloney, a two-year casino employee.
The march was part of a nationwide campaign calling for unionization at the Rivers Casino and two other casinos in Chicago and Philadelphia, all owned by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm. In Pittsburgh there have been nearly 30 complaints filed against the casino with the National Labor Relations Board.
“We’re hitting them on all three fronts and we’re going to keep hitting them until we get a fair process,” said Matt Arling, a casino bartender.
As the employees approached the casino, a group of valet workers wearing anti-union hoodies looked on.
“Don’t be intimidated,” said Dorthy Hall, who has worked at the casino for two-and-a-half-years.
After showing their IDs in the lobby, the employees made their way upstairs to the executive offices in hopes of talking to Craig Clark, the casino’s general manager. But they were only able to leave a message with his receptionist.
“We know when we come here. They hide because they’re afraid of our power,” said Matt Fred Lapka, who works as a waiter. “Today the victory was the fact we all showed up.”
The march was organized by the Steel City Casino Workers Council, which is comprised of workers from UNITE HERE Local 57, Teamsters Local 211, Operating Engineers Local 95, and the United Steelworkers. UNITE HERE is an international union representing employees in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries.
We've reached out to River's Casino and will update with a response.
Rivers Casino issued the following statement:
“We take great pride in our team and respect the rights of our Team Members to choose. So far, the overwhelming majority of our Team Members have consistently chosen to remain independent,” said Mike Gross, Rivers Casino spokesperson.
Last night the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network received commitments from elected officials and government hopefuls at its 2013 Public Action meeting. In front of an audience of approximately 200 at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Oakland, officials from the state, county and city pledged to address issues such as gun violence, education, public transit, jobs and clean rivers.
“Let us reach out and make Pittsburgh not just the most livable city, but the most lovable city,” said Rev. Maureen Cross-Bolden of St. James AME Church, a member of PIIN, which includes nearly 50 congregations and organizations.
In his remarks to the audience, mayor-elect, Bill Peduto used the architecture of the Rodef Shalom building to highlight the interconnectedness of the issues being discussed.
“When we’re talking about theses pledges today, understand they all connect, just like the tiles in these mosaics,” he said.
Nowhere was this interconnectedness more present than in the issue of gun violence which speakers said was exacerbated by increased unemployment and a struggling education system. More than half of the audience stood when asked how many had known someone killed as a result of gun violence.
“All of these issues you’re fighting for are important, especially as it relates to violence because violence needs a holistic approach,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley.
The state representatives were asked to tackle gun violence head on by proposing legislation to ensure background checks are required statewide on all gun sales. They were also asked to sponsor statewide lost- and stolen-gun legislation, similar to what was passed in Pittsburgh ,whereby gun owners are fined if they do not report when their firearms are lost or stolen.
“The Republican party, the NRA says [gun control] doesn’t make a difference,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey. “My response to them is, ‘If it doesn’t make a difference, do it.’”
As mayor, Peduto said he will enforce the city’s lost- and stolen-gun legislation as soon as he takes office. City councilors Bruce Kraus and Rev. Ricky Burgess pledged to reallocate resources to increase police presence in high-crime areas.
“I am here to affirm my commitment to you,” Kraus said. “I am your friend and your ally in stopping this cancer that is gun violence.”
According to speakers at an Oct. 29 public hearing, victims of domestic violence are among those hurt most by funding cuts to legal aid programs for low-income individuals and families. The local hearing, held by the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, was the third and final hearing examining the civil justice gap.
Among the speakers was Shirl Regan, president and CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, who says victims of domestic violence are having a harder time obtaining “protection from abuse” orders because of cuts to resources like Neighborhood Legal Services, a Pittsburgh nonprofit law firm that provides civil legal services to “poor and vulnerable residents.”
“It’s been ongoing cuts over the years,” Regan says. “It used to be that Neighborhood Legal Services could work with every woman. Over the years the cuts have been so that they don’t have the attorneys to do that.”
Even when a victim is able to receive help obtaining a PFA order, attorneys are often not available to assist them long-term. As a result, they have difficulty handling the legal challenges that arise later in the form of a custody battle, if there are children involved, or if the order is violated.
“There are always violations of these orders,” Regan says. “We as a society are expecting these women, who have been traumatized, to stand up by themselves when the opposing party challenges them and these are people who are terrified by the opposing party. So many women are afraid to go forward because they know what can happen to them.”
The local Neighborhood Legal Services is funded through the federal Legal Services Corporation, which was founded by the U.S. Congress to ensure all Americans have equal access to justice. Funding for LSC was drastically cut in 1995 from $400 million to $278 million, and has never quite recovered. As of 2013, LSC’s budget is estimated at $350 million.
“We need to be saying no more cuts,” Regan says. “We are putting not only the immediate victims of domestic violence in jeopardy; we are putting the children of victims in jeopardy. What we know about stopping the violence is it takes others and the justice system to stand up and say no you cannot do this.”
In the wake of National Labor Relations Board charges alleging that UPMC lashed out at employees who are attempting to unionize, city councilors, labor activists and two workers criticized the mammoth healthcare provider this morning in front of a gaggle of reporters outside city council chambers.
The event was organized by city councilor Natalia Rudiak, whose drumbeat was joined by her council colleagues Bruce Kraus and Darlene Harris.
UPMC is a "highly subsidized charitable institution" Rudiak says as part of her argument that they should be expected to be supportive of higher wages and tolerant of unionization.
Ron Oakes, an employee who says he transported patients at UPMC Presbyterian, was fired and reinstated then fired again. "UPMC fired me without warning," he told the room. "The NLRB said I was fired illegally. I want UPMC to stop this anti-union campaign."
And even though he's been fired twice, Oakes says he'd take his old job back in a heartbeat.
Last week, we tipped you off to some local music crowdfunding campaigns on our music blog — now here are a few currently funding non-music projects:
— Currently featured on the Kickstarter front page is Gennadiy, a new documentary by the Pittsburgh crew that brought us Blood Brother. They're about 36 percent of the way to their $40,000 goal, with a little less than a month to go.
— Cryptic All-Stars is a book of cryptic crosswords by constructors from around the world. The biggest surprise here to me: There's someone in Pittsburgh who makes cryptic crosswords! I can never even solve them.
— And occasional CP photo contributor Brian Kaldorf is funding an "eerie photo series" called Bump in the Night.
— Also, while Hondros: A Life in Frames isn't locally based, it's based on the life of a photographer with local ties. Chris Hondros, a photographer killed in Libya, had spent time in Pittsburgh. (He was part of a show at Space in 2007.)
— Over at Indie Go Go, try this one on for size: The Three Rivers Storytelling Festival is regrouping, and needs some cash to do so. Their $700 campaign is funding for another three weeks. Who doesn't love a good story?
— And Organic Theatre of Pittsburgh is raising funds to present Scarcity, by Lucy Thurber. The environmentally friendly theatre group has a little over a month to raise $1500 for the August production.
This edition of Localism looks at a few items available from local vendors on Etsy ... just in time for Valentine's Day, JUST SAYIN'.
— This wintry art print might look a little like a certain newspaper's Winter Guide cover from a few weeks back; that's because it's made by StrawberryLuna, the team that also did our cover! Pretty sweet.
— This hat boasts that it's perfect for the Barney fan in your life, if indeed there is a Barney fan in your life, which.
— This, right here, is a t-shirt that celebrates one's Fourth Amendment protection from illegal search and seizure. What it lacks in graphics it makes up for with gravitas.
— I guess I like birds pretty good, so I'm kind of biased, but this bird print looks pretty cool to me. Also, the name "Seed Hunter" kind of makes me giggle.
— Aaaand, OMG MELT WITH THE HAPPY WHEN YOU CHECK OUT THIS SNAIL MAIL VALENTINE!!!
It might have occurred to the author to bother to define the term "ball culture".
Bravo!!! The more space, safety, accommodation, and consideration of ALL people moving around the city…