Updated 10/9/2018 with corrections
Red Brick Partnership (RBP), a coalition of downtown Matthews businesses, was formed in 2015 by the Town of Matthews and its Economic Development Advisory Committee, and is currently co-chaired by John Urban* (Matthews Commissioner, owner of Urban Architectural Group) and Rob Jacik (owner, Carolina Beer Temple, Temple Mojo, and Seaboard). RBP’s stated mission has been to “promote the awareness of Downtown Matthews, the businesses and citizens that comprise the downtown area as a destination for residents and tourists.” There is presently no public list of Red Brick Partnership members.
The initial funding for Red Brick Partnership included donations from private businesses and a grant of $20,000 from the Town of Matthews, which was approved by the Town Commission, headed by then mayor Jim Taylor, and including current commissioners Chris Melton, John Higdon, Kress Query, and Jeff Miller. Town Staff provided information regarding actual town expenditures during this period.
In its first year of existence (2014/15), RBP received $10,600 in external donations and/or revenue, submitted directly to the Town of Matthews. With $12,515 in expenditures, the Town used $1,915 of the $20,000 approved by council to cover the difference. In its second year RBP received $7,925 in donations/revenue, and with $17,732 in expenditures the Town covered $9,807 of that amount. The RBP was administered as a town entity from its creation in fiscal year 2014/2015 until it incorporated during fiscal year 2016/2017. During this period Town staff managed and approved all funds going into and out of RBP.
Red Brick Partnership filed as a separate entity in 2016, prior to the separation they received $250 in donations. That year there were $20,040 in expenditures, including $18,393.10 provided directly to Red Brick post incorporation. The Town covered $19,790 in expenditures for fiscal year 2016/17. In RBP’s first full year as an independent organization (2017/18) the town provided $20,000. Total investment of town tax dollars has been $50,115 thus far, with RBP managing $38,393.10 without oversight from Town staff.In July 2018, the Board of Commissioners approved an additional contribution to RBP of $20,000 to be disbursed later this year.
The Town does not have a process to determine whether donations to RBP have resulted in a positive return on investment – through higher spending at local establishments or an increase in visitors to downtown businesses. The town has relied instead on the Town Council representative on the RBP board – currently Mr. Urban – and the representative from town staff – currently Assistant Town Manager Becky Hawke – to ensure town funds are being used appropriately.
Matthews’ continued investment of money and personnel has been provided with the assumption that RBP is a nonprofit organization. RBP’s domain extension (.org), further contributed to the presumption of nonprofit status. However, research performed by Matthews resident Gordon Clemmons uncovered that Red Brick Partnership filed for incorporation with the NC Secretary of State but never applied for nonprofit status with the IRS. As such, RBP has yet to file a 990, if annual donations and in-kind contributions exceeded $50,000 or a 990-N for nonprofits with less income. It is unclear if RBP has filed annual taxes as a business with income.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night, Mr. Urban addressed concerns. He maintains that the missed IRS filing was a simple error and was brought to his attention a few months ago. The organization is working to complete their nonprofit filing now. Mayor Paul Bailey expressed support of Mr. Urban and stated the funds approved in 2018 would be disbursed to the organization as soon as they have their paperwork in order.
Mr. Clemmons spoke during the public comment period. He brought up concerns about mismanagement of taxpayer money, potential conflicts of interest, and whether the organization is necessary given the existence of the Matthews Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Advisory Committee. He called for the return of funds given to RBP by the town, for an independent investigation of RBP’s finances, and for Mr. Urban’s resignation.
Mr. Urban did not respond to Mr. Clemmons public comment directly.
*Urban’s own documents and Facebook page denote himself as co-founder of RBP.