Charlotte-Panthers-MLS $110m saga continues

There is a lot going on here, but I’ll just jump to the chase–the City of Charlotte is holding firm —so far–on its offer of $110 million to pay for upgrades to Bank of America Stadium to accommodate the city’s recently acquired Major League Soccer franchise.

But the city wants a guarantee from David Tepper—who owns the MLS franchise and the Carolina Panthers—that he will keep the Panthers in Charlotte, according to assistant city manager Tracy Dodson:

Yet Dodson says the city needs a guarantee of Tepper’s long-term plans for the Panthers, as the team moves its practice facilities to Rock Hill.

“The goal is that we’re making an investment in MLS that is also going to make an investment in keeping the Carolina Panthers here,” Dodson told reporters.

It is also unclear when the public will be involved in offering feedback on the city’s investment, though Dodson said there will likely be a string of public discussion and votes.

If I’m reading the Charlotte Observer’s story correctly, the city does not have $110 million sitting around (surprise). That figure is based on Convention Center Fund projections:

CFO Kelly Flannery’s assessment of the city’s tourism revenues, drawing largely from hotel and motel occupancy taxes, confirmed that the Charlotte City Council has the financial resources to invest $110 million in MLS.

“You have plenty of money to make a monthly payment,” Flannery told council members, comparing any substantial investment to a mortgage with smaller, incremental payments stretching out over 20 or 30 years.

She later said the Convention Center Fund, a hospitality revenue stream that is expected to support soccer, will grow over time.

The current available fund balance is $41.7 million, according to Flannery’s presentation. That figure will increase to $101.9 million by 2024, and then surge to $251.5 million by 2029, the presentation showed.

Mind you the projections could be on more solid ground when (gasp) the Republicans leave town following the GOP convention. But here’s another thing–development surrounding the MLS franchise isn’t focused solely on BofA Stadium:

The former Eastland Mall site, where the soccer team will build its headquarters and practice facilities, is at the “forefront” of Charlotte’s immediate MLS priorities, Dodson said.

The property is favored to receive a significant investment from Charlotte, City Council member Matt Newton told the Observer Tuesday. The city bought the site for $13.2 million in 2012 and demolished the buildings.

Dodson said she plans to begin the rezoning process of the vacant 69-acre lot later this month. In a best-case scenario, Dodson said, that would lead to a zoning hearing in April, followed by a zoning decision in May.

At that point, the city could begin working with Panthers and Eastland’s master developer, Crosland Southeast. Several hundred homes and townhouses, open space, shops and restaurants are planned for Eastand — forging a concentrated effort to reinvigorate east Charlotte.

Newton, who represents east Charlotte, has urged fellow council members several times during their three-day retreat to take a vote on Eastland “as soon as possible.”

Big dreams–not-so-big money, at least by government standards. Stay tuned.

Sam Hieb / Contributing Editor

Sam Hieb is freelance journalist from Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a contributing editor for Carolina Journal and for Piedmont Publius, a blog that focuses on political a...

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