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August Wilson Center For African American Culture to be Liquidated

Wilson Center sale gets go-ahead from judge

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture apparently will be put up for sale. Judge Lawrence O'Toole of Allegheny County Common Pleas Orphans' Court issued an order Monday that allows a court-appointed conservator to sell the Downtown building to pay off a $7 million mortgage and other outstanding debt, stating he found "no other reasonable or cognizable option." In doing so, the judge rejected a request by prominent Pittsburgh attorney E.J. Strassburger to serve as a new conservator on a voluntary basis in one last bid to save the near-broke center, named after the famous playwright who grew up in the Hill District.

"I'm very disappointed. There is a huge amount of public support, and I think there is a huge amount of pent-up foundation support. With the right pieces in place, we could have energized and moved the center to the place it should be in the community. I don't see it the way the judge saw it, but some of us wear robes and some of us wear suits," Mr. Strassburger said.

At a hearing Friday, he argued that conservator Judith Fitzgerald had used the wrong methods to garner financial support. He said one of the flaws with her approach was not having a plan to take to donors. He believed he could use his influence and relationships in the community to build support for the center. With more than 40 years of experience, Mr. Strassburger, president of the Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky law firm, has specialized in complex commercial litigation, municipal law and appellate practice. He currently is representing the city of Pittsburgh in its lawsuit challenging UPMC's tax-exempt status and also serves as president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Pittsburgh. Mr. Strassburger said he did not know whether he would continue to pursue a possible rescue in light of the judge's decision.

"There is a lot of positive energy. We're going to consider our options and hopefully figure out a way to save the center. It's worth saving," Mr. Strassburger said, noting that he received lots of calls and emails over the weekend from people supportive of his effort.

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