Now that the proposed African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh finally has the Downtown property supporters sought for months, the hard part can begin: raising the rest of the $26 million needed to complete the project. Neil Barclay, president of the AACC, doesn't think it will be particularly difficult.
"We're getting significant national support for our center," says the recent transplant from Texas. Barclay is not only adjusting to the Pittsburgh weather but also to the local winds of resistance. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, normally a booster of all things civic, last year raised questions about the center's costs, given the city's budget crisis. Indeed, the only money secured for the structure itself is from the city and county, but that money was pledged before the city's budget crisis erupted, says Barclay. The $6.6 million received thus far has gone toward acquiring property.
Funds needed to build the museum, which may include interactive exhibits, performance venues, classrooms and studios, will come from private investors -- some of whom have suggested building a multi-story hotel atop the Center, says Barclay. Meanwhile, he has a staff of only two-and-a-half -- a marketing director, a programming director and an intern -- but they have been busy co-sponsoring and co-hosting fundraising events.
"I think people are starting to get it now," says Barclay. "People are beginning to understand and appreciate how significant this will be to the whole region."
Well, not all people.
Richard Mackenzie and his wife Sally, who run the Chez Kimberly strip club on the block where the AACC will go, say they are reluctant to relocate, and that the city is offering them $150,000 below what they say is the appraised value of their property. Their family has operated Chez Kimberly since 1978. Richard says they don't mind moving but they would like to stay near the hotels and convention centers that provide most of their patrons. The city has authorized the Urban Redevelopment Authority to use eminent domain to take over their property if necessary.
"It sucks," says Richard. "Who are they that they can just pick and choose where they want to be? That's not a free society, is it?"
In their defense, Richard adds, "We're more like a family bar -- more so than the other titty bars around here. I'm not against them wanting to build a museum but most of our black customers say 'We don't want a museum, we want fucking jobs.'"
According to Barclay, the AACC is slated to bring 44 full- and part-time jobs -- not counting those generated from construction, design and planning for the center.