CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Rooftop 210, an Uptown Charlotte bar and event venue, evicted more than a year ago by the Epicentre and delinquent on its county taxes, received $1.7 million in federal grant money from the Small Business Administration, according to public records.
In response to WCNC Charlotte's questions, the SBA said the federal agency could pursue repayment against businesses that collected money but closed, depending on the circumstances.
Rooftop 210 and its manager are tied to three country music festival businesses previously highlighted by WCNC Charlotte. All four companies list their address as an office building on Carmel Road. SBA records show those festivals and Pavilion LLC, which court documents reveal did business as Rooftop 210, received a combined $16 million in SBA grants.
"I think taxpayers should definitely be concerned about where this money is going and who it's going to," Matt Villmer, a Charlotte-area attorney, said.
Villmer specializes in business law. He believes the federal government should do a better job of vetting businesses ahead of time.
"I think maybe the SBA should ask some more questions about companies before they dole out millions of dollars," Villmer said. "It seems like there's a better way to determine if these people are deserved of that amount of money of taxpayer dollars."
Court records show that months before the pandemic forced restaurants and bars inside the Epicentre to shut their doors, Pavilion escaped an initial eviction attempt, but court filings reveal the company couldn't avoid eviction in September 2020. At that time, court records show Pavilion, along with the LLC that operated Rooftop 210, was $105,000 behind on rent. Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County tax records show Rooftop 210 remains delinquent on its 2020 business personal property taxes by roughly $2,000.
Despite an eviction, tax delinquency and ongoing litigation, federal records show Pavilion not only received an initial Shuttered Venue Operators Grant of $1.1 million, but a supplemental $569,000 in grant funds too, awarded on September 9, 2021. The federal money is meant to help small businesses that specialize in live entertainment. The grants can help cover payroll, rent, utilities and even taxes.
At this point, it's unclear if Rooftop 210 will ever re-open or if the company is hosting events elsewhere. In May, before the venue's website went offline, Rooftop210.com continued to say "We Can't Wait to See you Again!"
Attorneys representing Pavilion did not respond to WCNC Charlotte's multiple attempts for comment over the last several weeks.
Newly obtained court records show Epicentre is suing CCD III, the LLC that operated Rooftop 210, for breach of contract. In a counterclaim, CCD III is alleging the Epicentre is the cause of Rooftop 210's demise. The operator said the Epicentre's failure to secure the entertainment hub, prevent drug deals and stop the homeless from loitering "greatly hurt" its business.
"Defendant's business has essentially been destroyed by Plaintiff's conduct and the impact it has had on Defendant and Defendant's customers," the counterclaim alleges.
WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
WCNC Charlotte first learned three country music festivals, housed in the same building, collected more than $14 million in SVOG grants. Two of those festivals were revived in 2021 after the pandemic initially shut them down. Each brought in tens of thousands of country music fans to see well-known headliners. The third festival is still promising, now in December, "2021 info coming soon."
When WCNC Charlotte visited the office, including again last month, workers said the businesses were moving to an undisclosed location.
"The vast majority of the $9.5 billion expanded in this program is not going to be audited and that's a huge red flag," Stretton told WCNC Charlotte.
The SBA has since assured WCNC Charlotte, the agency is developing "monitoring and closeout processes" for the program.
"Through these processes, SBA will learn how the grantee has utilized their SVOG award and what outcomes have been achieved, including if the business has reopened and if the business continues to remain open," SBA said in an email. "If an entity has received an SVOG award and was unable to reopen or closed, we would utilize the monitoring and closeout processes to assess the grantees' use of funds and the circumstances around the failure to reopen or closure decision. Depending on the information and circumstances learned, SBA may take corrective actions or pursue repayment of SVOG award funds."