The Arts Emerge as a Driver of Revitalization

Arts & culture
by Pittsburgh Today Staff
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The weight of support the arts enjoy in Pittsburgh was on public display last fall when local foundations bought the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, rescuing it from debt, troubled management and a suitor with designs for turning it into a Downtown hotel.

Four foundations raised $5.8 million of the $7.9 million price to give the center another chance to become the hub for African American arts they envisioned when it opened five years ago. The city and Allegheny County agreed to cover the rest of the cost through the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Regional Asset District (RAD). They prevailed over a New York developer who saw the center accommodating a hotel, made a strong offer to buy it and nearly succeeded.

Such support and a healthy share of RAD tax revenue have bolstered the more than 300 arts and cultural organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania that have emerged as major attractions and significant contributors to the region’s economy.

Local arts and cultural organizations fed $686 million into the regional economy in 2010, the most recent Americans for the Arts’ Arts and Economic Prosperity data suggest. That’s the highest level of spending reported among the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s benchmark regions, which include San Diego, St. Louis and Baltimore. Pittsburgh is ranked at the top in arts-​related tax revenue and jobs as well.

The arts also play a key role in the revitalization of Downtown Pittsburgh, where restaurants and urban living have blossomed around the Cultural District. For example, the immediate success of The Encore apartments, a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust investment, helped awaken a Downtown residential market that has seen the number of units rise 45 percent since 2000. And late last year, Point Park University announced construction of the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, adding a $74 million theater and arts education complex to its urban campus and Downtown arts scene.

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