ROCK HILL, S.C. — Construction has been put on hold at the $800 million state-of-the-art Carolina Panthers headquarters in Rock Hill, Tepper Sports & Entertainment said.
Earlier in March, Tepper Sports said the city of Rock Hill didn’t pay its initial payment due in March 2021 for the massive project. It was set to open in 2023.
The first phase of construction was supposed to be complete next year. When completed, the facility will hold Panthers activities that don’t include the home games in uptown Charlotte.
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Tepper Sports and Entertainment said that while the project is paused, it will talk to its partners to find a way to continue building it.
“We are committed to bettering the Carolinas community that supports our team and players,” Tepper Sports said in a statement on March 7. “To that end, while GT Real Estate Holdings, LLC has invested more than $170 million into the development in Rock Hill, our partners have been unable to contribute the agreed upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure. Given the economic realities, the difficult but prudent decision has been made to pause the project. The on-going work will continue with our partners to find an economically acceptable solution for all parties to continue this project in Rock Hill.”
On Monday, Rock Hill city leaders gave more information explaining their side of the sudden pause in construction. They said the city’s plan was to offer bonds in different series, and not as Tepper Sports detailed.
The mayor and City Manager David Vehaun said they city did not want to backstop or guarantee the debt. Leaders said at times the Panthers organization was not submitting enough details about the project needed to secure the bonds.
“I would think that someone who is economically savvy would probably understand that is pretty smart to do, unless you significantly backstop it,” said city councilmember John A. Black.
“It’s a complicated project. It’s got many challenges and there’s always a risk of failure in this type of large undertaking,” said Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys. “This city council does everything in its best efforts to bring the bonds to market short of risking the credit of the city.”
“Any implication by the Panthers that the city did not do its absolute and professional best is simply not true,” Gettys said.
Despite the hurdles, Vehaun said leaders reached a place where they could move forward with the bonds, but he said the Panthers told them to stop.
“We were two weeks away from issuing the debt when we found out the Panthers asked us to stop and indicated that they wanted to try additional things to get the debt issued, which is fine. But I will tell you from the city’s perspective, we were lined up and had preliminary offering documents that were all but ready to go to the investment community,” Vehaun said.
Both York County and Rock Hill released statements in response to the paused construction.
York County’s March 7 statement:
“York County Government is aware of the announcement by the Carolina Panthers halting construction on the team headquarters and practice facility in Rock Hill. Although York County is not responsible for funding the infrastructure at the site, county staff is in communication with the Carolina Panthers, and hopes to work toward a solution that protects County taxpayers.”
Rock Hill’s March 9 statement:
“The City has met all obligations required under the agreement, and is not aware of any March 2021 payment obligation. The City intends to continue honoring our agreement with the Panthers and fully supports the project.”
“The bonds haven’t been issued to date. The agreement requires the City to utilize best efforts to issue bonds. We specifically did not agree to use any City funds or assets for this purpose beyond the tax revenues generated from the site. The City remains willing to issue any marketable bonds fully supported by the developer, whose support remains integral for the success of this public/private partnership.”
Local government incentives from Rock Hill and York County for infrastructure in and around the project totaled $225 million. State jobs grants would provide an additional $115 million to $120 million. More public money was also earmarked for a new interchange at Interstate 77 to connect with the 200-acre site, the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
The infrastructure includes roads, sewage, water and power to the facility. There will also be shops, restaurants and stores. The project is expected to generate a lot of revenue for the area.
Dean Faile, president of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he is not pushing the panic button.
“So, I think this is part of big, major developments,” Faile said. “Some things occur along the way that create a little hiccup and hopefully this will be resolved quickly.”
The York County Board of Commissioners discussed the development in a meeting at the beginning of March.
“Well, today the situation came to a head with the panthers announcing that Rock Hill hasn’t paid the money,” Commissioner William Roddey said. “They are halting the project.”
Channel 9 uncovered a letter showing there have been concerns about the city meeting its financial obligations. The letter, sent by the Panthers Chief Operating Officer Mark Hart to York County’s manager in May 2021, said Rock Hill had failed to secure bonds for the project.
“We are concerned that without county assistance, the city will not secure the $225,000,000 of bond proceeds contemplated by the Interlocal Agreement,” the letter read. The letter also warned that without the money, “there is a high risk necessary infrastructure objectives will not be met.”
“The letter put us on notice and the city on notice that there’s an issue with the payment and here we are, almost a year since that letter came out, and nothing has been settled between the city and the Panthers,” Roddey said.
Roddey said the county stands ready to help the city of Rock Hill and to bring the historic project to a finish, but that it will take communication.
“We’re in a much better financial situation than Rock Hill. It would only have taken a phone call or a letter of engagement and we could have gotten involved in the situation last year, but we haven’t been asked to get involved in their agreement,” he said.
He also said that all the government partners should not take any chances when it comes to the project.
“It’s time that we get this deal done (and) for the city of Rock Hill to reach out to York County,” he said. “Let’s move forward. Let’s work together. Let’s avoid any possible disaster down the road.”
A spokesperson for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he is confident the local governments and the Panthers can resolve the dispute over the training facility.
Return to this developing story for updates.
(Watch the video below: Panthers ask York County for help after Rock Hill fails to secure infrastructure funding)
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