GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The revenue from new youth sports events lured to the Greensboro Coliseum will provide the $400,000 the coliseum is paying to buy a gun show from a vendor.

That was the response this week from coliseum officials on how that process took place in 2020 without Greensboro City Council having to authorize a contract and spend public money.

Coliseum Managing Director Matthew Brown executed an agreement with Gun Show Inc of Stokesdale and its owner, Rodney Sorrel Sr., in which Sorrel turned over the rights to the show and its name in exchange for $400,000 — $80,000 a year through 2025.

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“The dates previously allocated to the Gun Show allowed the Coliseum Complex to solicit and book an increased number of multi-day state, regional and national youth sporting events,” coliseum spokesperson Andrew Brown wrote in an email to questions from WGHP. “Event-related income from the additional youth sporting events will fund the five annual payments for the Gun Show.”

Those details came to light in documents shared last week by businessman Eric Robert, who is running for mayor in a four-person primary that includes Mayor Nancy Vaughan, City Councilmember Justin Outling and former judge Mark Cummings. The top two vote-getters will move on to a General Election on July 26.

Robert last month had sued the city because he said it was moving too slowly in responding to his request for public documents about the end of gun shows. He has said he thinks the deal violates the Second Amendment.

The issue about the city and gun shows dates to 2018, when Vaughan had suggested the city no longer allow guns to be sold on city property as a response to the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida. Then-City Attorney Tom Carruthers told City Council that it could not prevent gun shows under state law.

But Carruthers’ successor, Chuck Watts, determined in 2020 that programming decisions at the Greensboro Coliseum fell under Brown’s contract. Watts told WGHP in an email last week that the agreement did not use taxpayers’ funds, that it did not require approval of the City Council and that the deal was based on the “autonomy” that Brown’s contract provides.

“That contractual understanding has been in place since 1994,” Watts wrote. “He also manages an enterprise fund that I believe is generated from revenues from performances and activities in the Coliseum Complex and is used to promote Coliseum activities.

“I am pretty sure that the money that was spent to acquire the gun show along with its rights to certain dates on the Coliseum calendar was purchased using that money, but I am quite confident that taxpayer money was not used to make that purchase.”  

Matt and Andrew Brown did not respond to follow-up emails requesting the name of events that were booked that would have provided the revenue cited as a source of the payment for the gun shows.

Vaughan, who has said she is not anti-gun and has a carry permit, told WGHP in April that the deal gave the city more control of dates each year and that, in her opinion, it worked out well for the gun show owner.

“Matt’s the ultimate yay or nay [on events at the coliseum],” she said, and this deal allowed him “to pursue more youth sports events on those dates.”

Vaughan told WGHP that this wasn’t the first such buyout the city had made on an organization, and Brown’s memo to Council confirmed that.

“This agreement marked the third time that the Coliseum Complex has purchased the rights to one of its long-standing Consumer Show Clients,” Brown wrote, “the first being in 1999, when it acquired the Central Carolina Fair from the Hamid Family and again, in 2003, when it acquired the rights to the Super Flea Market owed by the Smith family.”

The Browns did not respond to an email requesting more information about this.

Robert’s suit named Vaughan and City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba, and, in a press release, he specified the City Council and Outling. He called the entire plan “deceptive and fraudulent” and said in a release that his lawsuit “is not just about the Gun Shows, it is about the systemic corruption manifested by the deceptive and fraudulent maneuvers employed by Mayor Nancy Vaughan, with the complicity of city staff. Collectively, they continue to blur the lines between ethical and legal all while refusing to be transparent and held accountable.

“The Gun Shows involved hundreds of vendors and small business owners. “The City’s actions took their livelihoods away while doing nothing to combat violent crime in our city as we have now the highest crime rate in the nation for a municipality our size.”