Charlotte City Council member is right — Panthers stadium deal feels ‘rushed’ | Opinion

A rendering of proposed renovations at Bank of America Stadium, which would involve $650 million in money from the city of Charlotte.

As Charlotte City Council hurtles toward a vote on spending $650 million to renovate Bank of America Stadium, there’s one particularly nagging question: What’s the hurry?

If approved, it would be the biggest investment in our city’s history. Yet city staff are pushing for a vote on the proposal next week — only a few weeks after it was first introduced to the council and the public.

It’s a process that one council member told the Editorial Board feels “staged” and “rushed.” At the behest of some members, the city did hold a public hearing on the proposal Monday afternoon, during which several members of the public expressed a desire for more details and transparency regarding the plan. One asked that the city be more forthcoming about what safeguards are put in place to prevent Tepper from backing out of the project.

That’s a desire shared by at least some members of the council. At the moment, the term sheet and payment schedule is not available to the public. One council member told the Editorial Board that when they asked to see the term sheet, they were invited to discuss it in a private meeting with Tepper Sports & Entertainment, but were told it would not be made publicly available. But doesn’t the public deserve to see it, too? After all, it is the public’s money, and while the public does elect representatives to make decisions about how to spend it, they expect those representatives to be transparent about their decisions as well.

Because the timeline for approving the project is such a quick one, opportunities for council to discuss the project and ask questions have been limited. The proposal was heard by the council’s economic development committee last week, but some council members who were not on the committee were given little time for questions in order to keep the process moving. Instead, they were told their next opportunity to ask questions would be on June 24, the same day that council is expected to vote on the project. (The committee is chaired by Malcolm Graham, who did not respond to our messages.) That’s hardly enough time to make an informed decision, particularly when one doesn’t even become fully informed until right before the vote.

According to Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson, the accelerated timeline is necessary to avoid delays by holding a vote before the council takes a summer break. That would make sense if this were an urgent and time-sensitive matter, but we’re talking about more than half a billion dollars. The city should wait as long as it takes to ensure this is the best possible deal.

That means asking — and allowing — the tough questions. Questions about the reliability of partnering with an owner who has been at times unreliable, and about the protections that ought to be in place to protect the city’s investment from that unreliability. Questions like: Will David Tepper and the city make payments simultaneously, or will he wait until the city’s investment is made before he pays his share? And what, exactly, makes the city so confident that we won’t end up like Rock Hill?

It also means trying to get as much as possible out of the deal — including, perhaps, a longer non-relocation agreement that the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte FC couldn’t buy themselves out of after just 15 years.

But it seems like at least some on the Charlotte City Council are content to sit back and accept the plan as written.” It’s understandable why the city would want to get this deal done. The Panthers and Charlotte FC are good for the city, and we should all want them to stay here. Subsidizing those teams is part of having them here — we shouldn’t categorically oppose it. But there’s still a right way and a wrong way to do it, and without a little more time and transparency, Charlotte is choosing the wrong one.