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Interview with Hansen Matthews,  January 28, 2009 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Hansen Matthews,  January 28, 2009
January 28, 2009
Born and raised in Wilmington, Hansen Matthews,Jr. graduated from East Carolina Univ. School of Business in 1980. His father attended Wilmington College, and mother a Meredith College graduate, and long time teacher in Wilmington. Two of his daughters are now attending Meredith. In 1987 he partnered with with 2 other longtime residents to form the very successful Maus, Warwich, Matthews, Commercial Real Estate. This was in 1987, when the first wave of great changes became evident in southeastern NC. Working with outdated 1948 zoning laws, and boundaries ever changing, the partnership saw great opportunity for advancment, in bringing needed commercial oppotunities for jobs and tax dollars to support quality of life in the near future. Mr. Matthews agrees that preserving history is important, especially in the downtown area, but feels that controlled growth and new structures to support this is just as important. Read his view of what is needed, when, and how it can be done. A very analytical mind.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Matthews, Hansen Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Boyle, Erin Date of Interview: 1/28/2009 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 57 minutes

Jones: Today is Wednesday, January 28th, 2009. I'm Carroll Jones with Erin--what's your last name, Erin?

Boyle: Erin Boyle.

Jones: Boyle, for the Randall Library special collections oral history project. And we're in the Helen Hagan room in the special collections department at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Our special guest this morning is Hansen S. Matthews, Jr., a partner--and I hope that's right--

Matthews: It is.

Jones: All right. With Miles Warwick Matthews Commercial Real Estate. And he is married to the lovely Angela, and a devoted father of three beautiful girls, two of whom are in college right now. Pity you! Good morning, Hansen, and thanks for coming to visit us.

Matthews: Morning. Glad to be here.

Jones: Great. Let's start by having you tell us a little bit about you, about Hansen, where you're from, how big a family, brothers, sisters, etc. No big intro there, just so we know a little bit about you, and education, where did you go to college? Can we start there?

Matthews: Absolutely. First of all, my folks moved to Wilmington in the 1950s. It's kind of unusual that I'm telling you this now, because they were born and raised in farms in Nash County, North Carolina. It's between Rocky Mountain and Raleigh. And my mother went to Meredith. My dad decided to come to Wilmington College with the idea that he was going to study and get a two year degree, and then go on to South Carolina. He wanted to be a dentist. They moved down here, I was born here, and once they came down here, as the locals say, they got sand in their shoes and never wanted to leave. So they're still here.

Jones: And did he go to Wilmington College?

Matthews: He did. Graduated from Wilmington College and stayed. He had a job in college, working at Hughes Brothers downtown and liked it. Stayed after for a couple of years and then started his own auto parts store.

Jones: Terrific. And your mother was in those days, what, a housewife?

Matthews: No, she graduated from Meredith with a degree in teaching and they moved down to Wilmington. And back in the '50s, one of the cheapest places to stay was Wrightsville Beach, if you were willing to stay there year round.

Jones: Yes, I've heard.

Matthews: So they lived at Wrightsville Beach, and we moved two or three times the first five years of my life. It was perfect. Could not have asked for a better childhood.

Jones: I can imagine.

Matthews: My mom taught for 30 years in the public schools and became a supervisor in language arts and social studies and recently retired.

Jones: Just recently?

Matthews: I say recently. Eight years ago.

Jones: Well, that's recent.

Matthews: Yeah.

Jones: Were you an only child?

Matthews: Yes.

Jones: Well, in a way that was kind of nice. In a way, you probably wished at times you had somebody else to be batted around.

Matthews: I had plenty of friends. It was not a problem.

Jones: That's terrific. And how about you? Where did you go to school?

Matthews: I went to East Carolina. I looked only at in-state schools, narrowed it down to Wake and ECU. And my dad came home the last day and said, "Well, where are you going to go?" And I said, "I'm really not sure." He said, "Well, what about East Carolina?" I said, "Sounds good." He said, "Good. Let's eat." It was that simple. Had a good experience at East Carolina. I think a lot of the school, and a number of people in the business community now, a number of city executives with banks, a lot of people just in the business community that I was in school with then, but didn't know, have ended up here. So it's funny how life kind of goes in circles.

Jones: Yeah. Well now, was this the School of Business?

Matthews: It was.

Jones: Okay. That's what we want to make sure. So what happened when you graduated?

Matthews: I graduated in 1980. Carter had just been elected. Excuse me, Reagan had just been elected, and we were coming out of the Carter years. Inflation was rampant. I remember Ford's mantra was--well, all during the late '70s, we had high inflation. Interest rates--

Jones: During the Carter years, yeah.

Matthews: But that's--

Jones: Boy, oh boy.

Matthews: Mm-hmm. And--

Jones: I was in real estate then.

Matthews: Oh boy. I bet you had a good time too.

Jones: I can remember when a VA loan, this is a veteran's loan, it topped 18 percent. And I remember in my office, I was a top producer and I think I only made $7,000 that year.

Matthews: Wow.

Jones: I sold a house to a couple, and they were qualified, 17 percent VA. I thought they were nuts, that they weren't going to pass, but they did. Those were tough times.

Matthews: They were, they were. I knew I wanted to go either in transportation, shipping, trucking, something like that, or commercial real estate. And College of East Carolina, my junior year, I took a business elective in real estate and found out I liked it. And ECU was one of the few schools then, four year schools, where you could actually major in real estate.

Jones: Was this general real estate or business, or commercial?

Matthews: Well, it was in the business department, but it was real estate. You had to take some finance courses along with--

Jones: Right, the same old thing.

Matthews: So that's more widespread now. A bunch of universities have it, but back then, it was kind of different. And yet I wanted a salary, if I could find it. I was just not finding it. My dad introduced me to Chuck Paul who had commercial realty. His son, Chad, who now lives in town, is affiliated with commercial realty, although he does not do much brokerage. He does more like venture capital and things like that. Excellent, excellent person to learn the business from, and that's where I met my current partners, Bill and Steve. And we worked together for a few years then, and they decided they were going to go off, start their own firm, asked me to join them. I did, so we started in '87 and here we are 22 years later.

Jones: And you're still speaking to one another?

Matthews: Yes, yes! Get along like champs.

Jones: Well, that's terrific, because we see your signs absolutely everywhere.

Matthews: Thank you.

Jones: And I accused Bob Warwick of having funded some of that to keep them afloat. I love his face and I love his quips, you know. How did you start out? What brought you to the point where you became really established and well known in that industry?

Matthews: I think I was one of those people who became a 90 day wonder in about 15 years. No one particular thing. Just going in and when I started working with Chuck, Chuck did not grasp the concept of independent contractor. He said, "You're working with me six days a week," and being right out of college, I said, "Yes, sir." And it was--

Jones: You were salaried, right?

Matthews: No. Oh no! We would come in literally Saturday morning, 8 o'clock, and he'd do some paperwork, I'd do some paperwork and some calls, catch up on some research. And then we'd go out and we'd have lunch and we'd put up signs. It was the best learning experience I could have ever had, because when we were riding around doing those signs, it gave me lots of time to talk with him. You talk about different things that you don't know where it's going to lead so much. But through that process, I learned a lot.

Jones: Now these signs were put up on properties that you had clients that hired you essentially, right?

Matthews: That's right.

Jones: Yeah, I guess they must have had faith in you.

Matthews: They did. They did. Early on, I think it was more faith in the company I was with, and then gradually--you've done real estate. You know the drill. Gradually it becomes more you and less the company.

Jones: That's true.

Matthews: But when you're starting out, it's definitely the company.

Jones: Because if they're going to sue someone, they're going to sue you as well as the company.

Matthews: That's it. That's it. I think there's a lot to be gained from being in a multi broker's shop, because you can pull from everybody's experiences, and everyone helps each other in not just marketing, but valuation and prospective, at least in commercial real estate. I don't know if it's so true for residential, but in commercial real estate, it's like casting this net out of the community and gathering it back in with intelligence and with contacts, and with perspectives. It all measures and blends well.

Jones: Do each of you have your own specialty?

Matthews: Not really. The way we do our shop is, we have one person who does property management. We have four people who do commercial leases, and the rest of us run sales. It's easier to say what we don't do than what we do. We don't do resort, we don't do residential. Anything beyond that, we'll do, raw land, a little bit of development. I used to appraise for a dozen years, and thank God, I got tired of that, and just let that part go.

Jones: Hansen, let's go back to the end of the 1980s, after you people were established, and talk a bit, for all these researchers that are going to watch this, and read this, what it was like then. We've come a long ways. In the hot areas, the properties and how business might have been done then, as opposed to, there've been tremendous changes, I know, probably some constraints as well, zoning regulations, whether it's in the city or not. But what was it like as compared to now?

Matthews: It was a lot simpler. It was a lot simpler. You covered two or three topics there, I'll try to weave them together.

Jones: I know I did, so you go ahead and take as much time on that as possible, because this is of interest.

Matthews: Okay. Well, to give you an idea, you mentioned zoning. Wilmington didn't have a zoning ordinance at all until 1948, and when I started the business, that was the one we were still using. And it was, you know what a Reader's Digest is, the size and thickness? Well it was the size and thickness of a Reader's Digest and had not been amended much since 1948. In the early 1980s, they decided that Wilmington had grown, times had changed and they needed more. To make matters more interesting, one of the senior planners was the ex-husband of the president of the Association of Realtors, and they still had not reconciled. And so the realtors, they'd circled the wagons. They didn't want change. City planning wanted change, and this process, which it's never easy, but it helps when everybody wants to be collaborative, was very combative. It took about a year and a half, and through that, we went from two commercial zonings to, if you count O and I and airport industrial and things like that, probably seven. So when they did this, they created many new zoning classifications, they put them all into the city, and at that time--

Jones: Excuse me, when you say "they?"

Matthews: "They" being the planning department. The city council had to adopt it. On the last night when they were adopting things, you could go down there, and there was a line out the door, and people were going and pleading their cases. And so you ended up with a less than perfect zoning ordinance, because they would hear your cases one at a time, and there were several business people who went down there. they weren't totally exempt, but they got changes that we're still dealing with today. One thing that the planning department at the time wanted to do, they wanted Wilmington to be more of an office city. They wanted it to be more like Raleigh, say where you have tons and tons of offices, so as a result--

Jones: Now this would have been new construction?

Matthews: Yes, new construction. And so they put O and I, office and institutional zoning, which is what UNCW is, all over the city. They put it in Shipyard Boulevard, several areas all around the city. There was an abundance of O and I. But since they put it in so many places that already had restaurants and other types of stores, in order to keep everything from being a nonconforming use, they had to go in and allow a number of uses that you ordinarily wouldn't find: service stations, restaurants, florists, things of this nature.

Jones: Sure, sure.

Matthews: And I believe there were initially 138 permitted uses in O and I, so it's never a perfect process, but over the last 20 years, they've gradually refined O and I to be more like offices. They still allow restaurants, but they don't allow convenience stores. I don't think they allow motels and hotels, but anyway, that's kind of a tangent. But the ordinance was passed in the early '80s. It's the one we've been dealing with ever since. Of local interest, you had a Wrightsville Avenue corridor overlay district, which if you would imagine taking a zoning map and then putting a Mylar transparency over it, it's another level of regulation. And by doing that, they hoped to preserve some of the integrity of Wrightsville Avenue, and I think largely they've done it. I think it's impeded some development, but Wrightsville Avenue, when you go off of College and you start going back toward downtown in particular, still has a lot of charm, still has a lot of the bungalow type of homes. And if you'll look at the type of commercial that has been built in the 20 years after the corridor overlay, it's largely been in keeping with that type of street, whereas before, you already had some metal buildings creeping in. You had some little strip centers creeping in, not that that's bad, but Wrightsville was kind of special.

Jones: Now what is the street--I'm picturing in my mind Wrightsville--you can only go so far if you're going toward downtown. Then you've got to get out onto Castle Street or whatever.

Matthews: It turns into Dock.

Jones: Dock, yeah. I've noticed when I come home from church, they sometimes cut off 16th or 17th and cut through there, pick up Independence. There's a group, a little neighborhood, they're taking the existing structures and redoing them, not to drastically change or be modernized, just to upgrade.

Matthews: Right. Beautiful homes, beautiful homes.

Jones: Now, I imagine that that is a real plus.

Matthews: It is. The area you're talking about is Carolina Place. That was Wilmington's first subdivision back in the '20s. And the homes are not very large, they're close in, small lots--

Jones: You can't park in the street. If you did, no one could pass by.

Matthews: There you go, and a lot of them have alleyways, entrances in the back, but because they are located centrally to a lot of things, and because of the architectural character in those homes, you see in homes as recently as the mid '90s, you get to go in there and bought anything, $50,000 tops.

Jones: But spent how much to rehab?

Matthews: Oh yeah, to rehab, you'd have probably spent another 25 or 30 minimum.

Jones: At least, yeah.

Matthews: But now people are going in there and you can buy homes in there for over $200,000, a quarter million bucks, but they are rehabbed very nice.

Jones: Do you know if there's any plans for it? Because there is no grocery store around there.

Matthews: I doubt you're going to see that change much.

Jones: We find that through all of that whole area, Forest Hills, around, Wilbur grew up in Forest Hills. His father helped build it as a matter of fact, and there was a grocery store that everybody went to. And he said they didn't have anywhere else. Of course, we're so spoiled, these humongous supermarkets everywhere you go, that it just seems amazing. And I see, gee, I was looking around for a gas station when I first got here. Where's a gas station? Where's a gas station? So they should have thought about things like that.

Matthews: Oh sure.

Jones: But anyway, so the commercial stores around there are still there and can stay there. There's no change in zoning, is that it?

Matthews: Yes, the commercial stores that are there are either along Castle Street, where you've got a commercial note on 17th, 16th, Castle, Queen . . .

Jones: Right.

Matthews: . . . right in there, and that won't change, I don't think.

Jones: Yeah, part of that's been rehabbed, I guess, and they're trying to change it somehow.

Matthews: It'll be slow, but it will gradually happen.

Jones: You think so? Okay, fine. I noticed too, I want to ask you this, and you don't have to answer if you don't want, that there are big signs like yours that are the Cameron Corporation. Now do the family own those vacant lots or are they also working for somebody else?

Matthews: They own them.

Jones: That's what I thought.

Matthews: Yes, yes. I don't mind answering it at all. I'm sure you've talked to some of them already, and if not, you will.

Jones: Well, I hate to in a way, because some of the members are friends of ours. My husband was closer to Dan before he died than some of the others, but sees Bill occasionally. I don't know whether he's involved in that or not. I have no idea.

Matthews: He is.

Jones: That's what I thought, yeah.

Matthews: They still have a lot of land around Shipyard. Not so much around the hospital any more, but where Shipyard and Independence meet, and then where Independence goes down to 17th Street extension, almost all the large tracts of vacant land are--

Jones: They're Cameron.

Matthews: Yes.

Jones: Yeah. That would stand to reason, since they donated that property for the museum and that sort of thing. I imagine that there is somebody down at the courthouse constantly looking to see who's bought what or options or whatever. Do you own any properties yourselves?

Matthews: We do.

Jones: As a business.

Matthews: Right. Moss Warwick Matthews, the company, owns nothing, as far as real property. We've got a couple of corporations and LLCs that we developed some other things. And it's not just the three of us. Bill, Steve and I own homes and things, but it's really interesting, when you're in a multi brokerage shop, if the three of us work together, the three of us might go into something together, or you might have a friend or an investor, or a building contractor or whatever, that alerts you to an opportunity. And maybe the two of y'all go off in it and do something together. Maybe I'll bring something. It's very interwoven, the way we do things, and there's no grand design, other than to pursue opportunities in a way that's going to benefit ourselves and the community and do it all above board.

Jones: When somebody comes to you to perhaps talk about purchasing property, do you have to go through what it is they plan to do with the property if it's commercial? I mean, it's going to have to be commercial, what type, what they're going to put in there. Are there any restrictions within, let's say, certain areas, or blocks or something like that?

Matthews: Sure. I think it's not so much that there are restrictions within certain blocks, but there are definitely restrictions within zoning categories. One of the first things you want to do, you're sitting down with the person in a conference room, you find out what their use is. And that's going to guide you in assisting them. You're going to want to find out the minimum lot size that they need, the minimum building size, if they're looking for an existing building, if they're looking for something that they can modify, ceiling heights. I'm working with somebody right now who's out of state. They want to buy something existing, and they're willing to modify an existing building and change that, but they've got minimum ceiling height requirements of 14 feet, so if I find them something with 12 feet.

Jones: That's not going to work.

Matthews: Yes, it's kind of pointless. So ceiling height, building size, zoning, and certainly location, traffic count, those things all come into play.

Jones: Are there restrictions, for example, on how many restaurants or fast food places within a mile are on one strip, or beauty parlors or flowers shops or whatever?

Matthews: There are none, there are none. Case in point, the intersection of Gordon Road and Market Street. You've got Walgreens, CVS, Rite-Aid and McDonald's. Probably the only reason McDonald's is not a drugstore is because there isn't a fourth major chain. So there are no restrictions like that, other than the free market, and that's all right.

Jones: Talk about in the late '80s, it was before I-40 opened, what difference did that opening make for you people?

Matthews: Huge difference. Huge difference.

Jones: In what way? It was a boon in a way, was it?

Matthews: It was, it was. I mean, needless to say, we were excited about it all during the '80s and it took about four, five years for it to be built. We started feeling the effects of I-40 in our business two years before it was complete. A number of restaurants, a number of banks, a number of convenience stores, a number of people that want and need high profile locations on major corridors. If they had a presence in the area already, they wanted to expand it. If they were not in the area yet, they wanted to get here before the boon. So the day that I-40 was completed was not like throwing a switch and saying, "We're open for business." These companies started coming two or three years earlier. So it was more of a gradual wave that this happened, but yes, it's so much better. Raleigh's two hours away. Now before then, if you had to go Highway 421, you go through Samson County. And if it was crop time, you'd get behind a tractor.

Jones: On Sunday, one lane.

Matthews: Yeah.

Jones: Aside from the fact that it was a boon for the residents here, there were no restrictions on what kind of businesses or corporations putting headquarters here, things like that. I noticed--well, anybody can notice--you come in I-40 and there are some industrial type buildings out there. Were they there as a result of I-40?

Matthews: Yes, definitely, definitely. When North Chase was started, it was about an 800 acre planned development community. North Chase and Lampaugh [ph?] were the only two areas where they had a special designation, PD, or planned development, in the county. And it took a while to get North Chase off the ground. Residentially, it happened first, and then the North Chase Park of Commerce, in the late '80s, they sold most of the frontage on I-40, and immediately got two or three larger companies coming in. But it took a while on the second tier smaller lots to get them developed. And I guess it was the early '90s, all of a sudden, it took off and wow, just popped and filled out.

Jones: I guess money became a little more plentiful too. Tell us about that, the money situation.

Matthews: The money situation now, or?

Jones: Just start then, when it started booming. It was plentiful, I guess.

Matthews: We've been through about three down cycles since I started the business in '80. The first one was in the early '80s, lasted for a couple of years. Then when they changed the tax law in 1986, I remember distinctly, February 1987, I started getting a series of unrelated calls, calls from unrelated parties, and the conversation would go something like this. It would be maybe an engineer at GE, and he or she would call up and say, "I've just met with my accountant, and I'm no longer getting the tax benefits on this office condo that I bought, or these office condos that I bought, and I'd like to sell them, or some of them." And after about four of those calls over that month, I figured we're in for a down cycle, and sure enough, it happened. But that didn't last for but a couple of years.

Jones: What was that down cycle as a result of?

Matthews: Tax law change, specifically, and it hit condominiums especially hard. It hit a lot of them at Carolina Beach. Several condos were built at Carolina Beach, several hundred, and they sold a lot of them just based on the tax benefits. And then when those changed, there was a little bit of a wash out, and then things picked back up, and they went well for a few years. And then in '91 and '92, we were off. And then again, in '93, '94, all the way through, gosh, all the way through the end of the '90s it was very strong. The stock market meltdown of 2000 hurt the overall economy some, but not so much real estate. And then we've been through 2002 through 2006 was just fantastic. One year, we had 14 percent appreciation for the market, and you can't sustain those numbers, not in the stock market, not in real estate, not in anything. So when the subprime loan situation started to unravel last year, one thing led to another led to another. So as I speak to you, we are definitely in a down economy. I think 2008 was one of the worst years in my memory, economically speaking. 2009 I think is going to be better, 2010, better than that. So I think we've bottomed and it's just a matter of time before we start heading back out.

Jones: You mentioned the stock market. Most people do own something, and it is difficult to take a look at your monthly statements sometimes and say, "We don't like this. What happened to it?" Speaking about these changes, and you mentioned condos, a lot of people I imagine, I know some, own condos here. They don't live here. They come here to the beach or they keep them for business or whatever. And there never was a complete tax write off for those owners, ownership for that, unless you used it for business or whatever, so that when that changed, was that any surprise? If gas prices are going up and people aren't traveling, etc., etc., that shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. The other thing is, what's the difference between a cooperative where you have four, six, ten people owning one resort property. What do they call that? I've forgotten.

Matthews: Co-ops?

Jones: Co-ops.

Matthews: Up north, or?

Jones: No, down here.

Matthews: Timeshare?

Jones: Timeshares. I guess that's the best thing. These people have bought timeshares, they can't sell the property. They can't sell the property, so you have to sell your timeshare. With these co-op condos and so forth, I know some people did that the same way. Two or three would own something. One wants to sell, you can't do it. Is there any clause in situations like that where they can go back to the lender, or they can have a quick sale to somebody at a drastic price? Well, you're not even in that business though, are you?

Matthews: No, I don't do the timeshare things. I never thought that timeshares, in and of themselves, were real investments.

Jones: Uh-uh.

Matthews: Not financially. If that's the way you like to vacation, then that's fine, but that's a whole other different set of considerations.

Jones: Yeah it is. I never could understand those either. All right, get back to the zoning. I guess that's figured into what I was going to ask. When everything started going up, including housing, the businesses that came here, were they real viable businesses that were offshoots from well known corporations or were they people, a lot of technology from Raleigh, or in the arts, movies, things like this? I guess what I'm trying to say is, how fragile were they, are they?

Matthews: A lot of Wilmington's business community is made up of companies, smaller companies, a lot of them individually owned, where people moved here in the '80s or '90s, even today, and they can live anywhere in the world that they want to, in particular, any place in this country, and still operate their business. Several businesses are here because of quality of life. We'll see more of them move here because of that. If you look at PPD--

Jones: Yeah, that's an amazing story.

Matthews: They can be--well, they're all over the world.

Jones: Yeah, they are.

Matthews: I mean, several different countries. Could they do their business a little bit more efficiently if they were in a city with direct air connections? And the answer's probably yes. I could sit down for a little bit and probably think of a dozen companies that fall under that. So a lot of the businesses that are here have been brought here because people who just want to enjoy the quality of life. From where we're sitting, we could be on a boat in 15 minutes.

Jones: That's right.

Matthews: It's no problem at all. We're sitting here, January, and it's going to be upper 60s and sunshine. Midwest and the North are freezing right now, so that's not going to change. I do wish that Wilmington had a broader, deeper job base, more of a corporate America presence. It would provide more opportunities, certainly for my family. My wife was born here, both of us Wilmington natives, and very talented, and like a lot of other people, particularly in this downturn, I would like to see more corporate presence where she would have more selection of jobs. I have three daughters, two of which are in college away now, and another one's going to go. I don't know if they're going to want to come back to Wilmington. I think that at least some of them will, maybe all eventually, but I want jobs for them. I want jobs for their spouses, for their kids, for everybody, and Wilmington has traditionally just been a tough place to get jobs that meet the qualifications.

Jones: Why do you suppose that is?

Matthews: Two or three reasons.

Jones: Or do we pander--that's not a good word--to the arts community? Here today, gone tomorrow. You see these little shops, boutiques, whatever, and they're not lasting, and they're one, two people operations.

Matthews: I think there are several reasons, but the main two or three that come to mind, number one, the RTP works so well, because you've got those three research oriented universities right there, and because the state government got behind it in the '50s, and pushed it. And it was a novel concept for North Carolina, it was a novel concept for America. The community college programs, one of the strongest in the nation, fed into that, so you have the researchers coming from the universities there. You have, again, international airports and a very patient state government with a lot of land located in between three large cities. So yes, something like that works, and once you get the ball rolling, it just feeds upon itself. Wilmington does a lot better than it used to. We had several big hits back in the '60s. Everybody panicked when the railroad left . . .

Jones: The Coastline.

Matthews: . . . in the '50s.

Jones: I remember.

Matthews: I remember Alan Trask, Sr. who would be, gosh, he'd probably be close to 100 now, but back in the '80s he would talk with me, and just a real champ of a person. But he told me that the conventional wisdom, when he was a young man, was that Wilmington would always be fine, because of the Coastline railroad, the Sprunts' cotton operation and Parsley Wood. He said with those three, those were the bedrock of the community that would never go away. Well, by the 1960s, all were gone. So you've got to be adaptable to change and you've got to embrace it, and I think Wilmington's done a good job of that. It's just, our problems are not unique. One of the issues that we have is, we have so many people coming here who are so eminently qualified to do so many things that it's almost an impossibility to have all the jobs that would meet their qualifications, because educated people and people who have a choice in life choose where they want to live. Wilmington's a wonderful place to live and they move here, and they do so really with an understanding that they're not going to necessarily be able to do everything in the job market that they could do, if they stayed and they put up with a 2 hour commute in New York or Washington or Chicago or wherever.

Jones: All right. As a native, tell me how you feel about these things, which have constantly been in the news ever since Wilbur and I moved back here. The convention center, good thing or not?

Matthews: Great thing.

Jones: Absolutely.

Matthews: Great thing. I'm sure I could go out to a cocktail party and catch a lot of grief for that, but I'm a strong proponent of the convention center. Do I think that it will be without hiccups? No. Nothing is, but long term, it's going to be a great thing. And the way it's set up is, it's set up so that it will operate--

Jones: All year round.

Matthews: Yeah, all year round. It's designed--we're going to get lots of conventions in the summer, but we really don't need them in the summer. People come here anyway in the summer, but in the fall, in the spring, certainly in the winter, something to bring people in year round and the tourism industry, I think it's a great industry, certainly for our area. People come, they bring their cash. I think this was ten years ago when they were doing the numbers. I think the average person spends $250 a day in a city, and when people bring their spouse, bring their kids, that number goes up.

Jones: It would also be, I know, I heard somebody say this a couple of years ago, when their youngster could not have a junior/senior prom. They had to wait because somebody else had the space. That's a place where you could have junior/senior proms any time of the year and not worry about it. That's just a little thing, graduations, but I think it is some place that would be used year round to provide jobs, bring money from outside in here. Who are those voices saying, ":Nay, nay, nay?" I have a feeling that they're some of the old timers, that are just very, very loath to let go of some of these things.

Matthews: Perhaps it's old timers. I think the opposition is probably interspersed across the spectrum, people who move here and they're scared that their taxes are going to go up. They don't believe that the convention center can be a standalone thing, they think they're going to have to bail it out.

Jones: A white elephant type thing. Okay, how about what some people refer to as the encroachment of our community college downtown? They do have all that space up on Blue Clay Road.

Matthews: They do. I don't understand exactly why three of the new buildings, three buildings out of I think four in this latest bond referendum, are going to be downtown. I know some of the people on the community college board. I certainly know the president, and I've not gone in any deep conversations with them as far as why, but I did speak with one of their board members recently, and I said, "I can only assume that you guys have got some very compelling reasons to continue building downtown on land that is very expensive."

Jones: Historic.

Matthews: Yeah. And he said, "Yes," he said, "we do." He said, "It would require a lengthy conversation, but some of our programs are so interrelated that once we get a student to a particular campus, it makes sense to have other programs there, rather than putting them across the county." I'll take him at his word on it. I was a proponent of the last bond referendum for the simple reason, there's not enough space. There's not enough space to teach people down there. There's a continued demand, and the community college, I know, meets a definite need. For instance, I graduated with a degree in real estate, a four year degree. I couldn't sell real estate. I had to go to Cape Fear Community College to take the licensing course to do it.

Jones: Yeah, but that's a very strict perform--you have to follow the rules. They're just boom, boom, boom.

Matthews: Yeah. So between that and nursing and a number of other programs, yes, I think it provides people a chance to go back and either reinvent themselves or prove themselves or add to their knowledge.

Jones: Well, that's awfully valuable land.

Matthews: Mm-hmm, yes it is.

Jones: The rest of downtown Wilmington, the historic district, like the Icehouse, is now a parking lot. That's too bad because that was a very historical spot, you know. The new flying bridge that's proposed to go over the river. Would it would come from River Road--no, not from River Road.

Matthews: Where Independence feeds into River Road. Actually, because of the incline or decline, and it would be so high in the air that it would actually come down to grade level around the intersection of Independence and Carolina Beach Road. It would overpass River Road and then come down some place in that. I think it would be wonderful to see it. I think it's going to be awfully expensive, and I think we're at a time where if we as a community don't get organized and push really hard over the next five years, we might not get it.

Jones: Well, with the scary evaluation of the existing bridge and the traffic that's growing. You brought up Carolina Beach Road. That area is expanding like crazy. Are you involved in development down there?

Matthews: Not per se. Our company is involved in that we have some land that was just rezoned. They're going to put a theater down there about a mile north of Monkey Junction, but that's not our project.

Jones: Where is your project mainly?

Matthews: Most of our projects are third party brokerage. We do development. We've done some along Oleander Drive, some of the retail centers over there, unanchored. That's not our bailiwick at all, is to do grocery anchored centers. I say "we," my partners have mainly done those. I've done some office, medical office properties next to the Brunswick County Hospital over the last ten years.

Jones: That's booming.

Matthews: That's a good area, that's a good area.

Jones: It was at one time--I don't think it is now--the fastest growing county in the country. Yeah, amazing.

Matthews: It'll continue. They've had some pull backs with the economy. Brunswick County, for the rest of my life and for the rest of my children's life, there's enough land for it to grow.

Jones: Evidently.

Matthews: Pushing from both Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, it's going to happen.

Jones: Hansen, tell me from a business point of view, what annotative--and you've seen certainly every transformation there is since the '60s at least happen here. What would you like to see happen, or what do you think is going to happen, as far as green space, building permits, businesses? What's happening to Wilmington? What do you think we'll see in ten years? What will it be?

Matthews: It's funny, you led off with green space, because that was the word that was forefront in my mind. Back in the early '90s, one of my partners became very involved in trying to pass a green space bond referendum that flopped, unfortunately. It wasn't his fault, it wasn't anybody's fault, it just did not pass. I believe it was a couple of years ago, we passed one as a county, $35 million, and that's a good step, it's a first step. I don't like the idea of floating bond referendums for everything, every time it's asked for. There have been some bond referendums for specific things that I voted against, some that I voted for. Green space is something that it is just a shame, an absolute shame, that our city and our county have not set aside more land for green space. And in order to do that, I mean, you can only do it one of two ways. You can put conservation easements on it, or you can buy it. And if you put conservation easements on it, most of the time, those are purchased. So the number one thing that I would like to see, I mean, aside from attracting quality jobs, is more green space, and we're going to need more money to do it. I mean, we're going to need a lot more money to do it. Wilmington has--we've used our beaches as a crutch, we've used the river as a crutch. That's fun to go to on a weekend. "Where do you want to go? Okay, let's go to the beach." Well, you've got 30,000 people--I'm making that number up--wanting to go in 3,000 parking spaces at Wrightsville Beach. You've got everybody who has a boat who wants to go to put their boat in, and there's just not enough room. So not just more boating access points, although we need those desperately, but we need to set aside land, and most of it's going to have to be in the northern part of the county. But as long as it's some place around, that's fine, but we need to do it. We need to have more places like Halliburton Park on 17th Street. Great place.

Jones: You'd make my husband happy saying that.

Matthews: Oh really?

Jones: He was in the forefront of saving that and naming it.

Matthews: Good for him, good for him. It's a fun place to go and it's different from most of our parks.

Jones: It is.

Matthews: It's just a natural setting. And ten years ago, we lived in a subdivision, Angie and I moved to a nice subdivision off of College Road, and our kids, in order to have some place that was either out of somebody's small yard, or without getting in a car and driving somewhere, we'd had to drive, or ride our bikes to a little area no wider than 20 yards on a slope that went down to a retention pond. That was it. That's being shortsighted as a community.

Jones: This place has been ripe for bike paths.

Matthews: Oh yes.

Jones: We moved down here from Mount Vernon, Virginia, Alexandria, and they built a bike pass along the Potomac. You could stop, start whatever, and whole families would be out there, picnicking and exercise, etc. in a very historic part. So I thought, God, this town is ripe for something like that.

Matthews: Yes. We need more of it, we need to talk more about it. Do I think it's going to happen? I think over the next 20 years, we might see one, maybe two bond referendums to get green space, but I'm afraid that the door's closing on that opportunity. And when it's all said and done, and New Hanover County is developed out, we're not going to have enough green space to really and truly meet the needs of the population that's going to live here.

Jones: That's really a shame. One of the people I interviewed about a year ago owns a lot of property. He is always looking at how to use it. And I asked him pretty much the same thing, and he said, "People should--" I asked him what he thought about Brunswick County developing so rapidly. He said, "That's fine with me. As a matter of fact, I have no problem with both Pender and Brunswick developing, and leaving Wilmington as the jewel surrounded by these two counties. A place to come that's historic value, even to church, even to go to dine out, to develop the history of the river and keep the beaches and leave it alone." I said, "Don't you own a lot of land here?" He said, "I do." I said, "What are you going to do with it?" He said, "Nothing."

Matthews: Wow. He's privileged to be in that position, he really is.

Jones: Nothing. Well, then I heard later that he was planning to do something, but it sounded so idyllic, you know.

Matthews: It does.

Jones: It sounds so idyllic, and yet I've had people say that their kids are moving to Brunswick County, all their kids. It's cheaper there and they've got space. And in a way I think that's not such a bad deal.

Matthews: No. Brunswick County in particular, I believe, when you're just across the river, you're as close to downtown as you and I are from this table.

Jones: That's about it, yeah. Is there anything that you would like to share with us before we close? This has been enlightening because you are in a position--I didn't realize you were a native--to talk about--you've just expressed where you think we're going to be down the road. But if you had a drawing board, what would you like to see?

Matthews: If I had a drawing board, I'd like Wilmington and the beaches to maintain their charm. I think they will, in fact, I'm positive they will. Northern part of the county, I'd like to see more green space. I'd like to see the business community, and they already are through the chamber of commerce, look toward the type of growth that's going to provide jobs for everyone, for the people who are coming in with varied backgrounds and degrees.

Jones: In other words, to have an input into our quality of life.

Matthews: Mm-hmm, yeah. And these people add tremendously. They have already, they certainly have already.

Jones: Well, I agree with you. I think some of them truly have. It's amazing to me to see people who will move here, and they don't even wait ten years, this is their home. And they do become a part of it, and I think that's marvelous. Hansen, thanks so much for coming to visit with us.

Matthews: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Jones: This has been really interesting, and it's something that probably more interesting in a year, two years, three years. There were a few more questions I wanted to ask you, so maybe in a year you'll come back when some changes have been made and we get over this hump.

Matthews: I'd be glad to. I would like to put in, just as a statement, I feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world, I really am. I love Wilmington. I feel blessed to have been a part of what's happened. I've got a great wife, I've got a great family.

Jones: I'm glad you brought that up.

Matthews: Great parents and in-laws, and everybody's right here.

Jones: You're a happy man.

Matthews: I am. I'm very--

Jones: I was going to say that, and I have it written down here. You are a fortunate man and you've also been very kind in showing your love for your family. It's always a good thing to see the Hansen Matthews family together. They look like they belong together.

Matthews: Well, thank you.

Jones: Thank you.

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