Gaining Options: Several bidders show interest in August Wilson Center, but only one reveals identity, plans | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Gaining Options: Several bidders show interest in August Wilson Center, but only one reveals identity, plans

"They should accept the bid that wants to keep its mission intact."

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To place a bid, interested parties were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, in order to keep details of the center's finances under wraps. But these kinds of confidentiality agreements are customary in the bidding process.

"There are restrictive covenants involved," says Kimberly Ellis, niece of the center's namesake (and no relation to the Pittsburgh Foundation spokesman). "I think the process should be more transparent, but if someone wanted to express interest, they had to sign a confidentiality agreement."

Ellis has also cited the fees paid to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald and her staff charge $350 an hour and claim to work 12-to-16-hour days; the charges have reached $150,000 as of February, according to court documents. "The lack of transparency, her fees, are troubling," says Ellis, who has raised questions about how Fitzgerald is benefitting financially from the sale. "The story's not over yet."

Ellis wasn't the only one expressing concerns. Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who represents the public's interest in the center's sale, objected to a $50,000 bill submitted by Fitzgerald in February.

In a court document filed Feb. 18, Kane wrote, "The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by its Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, in her capacity as parens patriae, respectfully requests that this Honorable Court not grant at this time, the Conservator for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture First Allowance and Payment of Conservators Fees and Expenses ...."

According to that document filed by Kane, portions of Fitzgerald's bill were redacted. In order to resolve the matter, Fitzgerald agreed to let the court review the original bill, but did not allow the original to be entered into court documents, where it would be available for public view.

"The redactions that are in the Receiver's detailed fee entries were made for the sole purpose of protecting the attorney-client privilege, or other confidential information that is subject to confidential and non-disclosure agreements, such as the name of parties interested in purchasing the August Wilson Center facility," Fitzgerald said in her response to the objection.

In the meantime, many are relieved to know there is at least one option on the table to keep the center's mission.

"That sounds great to me," says Paradise Gray, who hosted a Feb. 8 town-hall meeting and March 7 rally to save the center, along with his wife, Renee Gray, another August Wilson relative. "From what I've heard about it, [their bid] sounds satisfactory to me. That's what I want — that the center continues to serve as an African-American cultural center."

Gray hopes the public and local politicians can put some pressure on the conservator and Dollar Bank to ensure they accept the foundations' bid.

"They are supposed to be working for the good of the center, and if that's what they're working for, they should accept the bid that wants to keep its mission intact," Gray says. "I would love to know more about who the other bidders were. I'd also like it if more local politicians would get behind maintaining the August Wilson Center for the reason it was created."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said he and Mayor Bill Peduto are working on ways to save the center, but neither has come forward with a plan to date.

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